‘Airbnb Initiative’ would limit home sharing in San Francisco
10/26/2015|6:22:05 PM|WSJ

Tensions over high housing costs in this tech-boom city have spurred a contentious ballot measure in next month’s municipal election that takes aim at home-sharing sites such as Airbnb Inc. by limiting short-term home rentals to 75 nights a year.

Measure F, dubbed the “Airbnb initiative,” would also authorize the city to fine such sites for listing apartments that aren’t registered with the city as short-term rentals, and allow neighbors to pursue hosts and companies in private lawsuits.

The Nov. 3 ballot measure is a key test for Airbnb, a San Francisco-based startup recently valued at $25.5 billion, on its home turf as it faces a variety of regulatory challenges in cities where it operates.

The measure is being backed by tenant-rights organizations as well as a group representing landlords.

However, it has split prominent local politicians, drawing support from Democrat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and opposition from fellow Democrats Mayor Ed Lee and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running for governor of California.

Proponents say the measure is needed because short-term rental sites such as Airbnb are taking housing units off the market in San Francisco at a time when the city is experiencing a shortage of affordable housing.

Average asking rent in the city hit $2,828 a month for a studio apartment during the first nine months of the year, according to real estate data company RealFacts. That compares to an average rent of $2,575 for the same kind of unit in 2014. San Francisco’s median home price was $1,097,000 in September, a nearly 17% increase from the same month last year, according to real estate data company CoreLogic.

“We have the worst housing crunch this city has suffered since the 1906 earthquake—we cannot build housing fast enough,” said Dale A. Carlson, a media consultant in the city who wrote the measure, and whose “Share Better” campaign has raised $356,000 to pass it, with the largest contribution coming from a hotel workers union. “So to lose housing units for tourist accommodations—it is just insanity.”

Airbnb and its supporters are fighting back with an $8 million political campaign. Over the summer, the company hired Chris Lehane, a former consultant to former President Bill Clinton and veteran of California political fights, to serve as the company’s head of global policy and public affairs.

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