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Airbnb pledges to follow election victory by expanding home-sharing communities

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Chris Lehane explains how Airbnb will follow its election victory by expanding home-sharing communities in other cities at Airbnb’s headquarters in San Francisco on Nov. 4. (Connor Hunt/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

Less than 24 hours after Airbnb prevailed Tuesday in The City’s election by defeating a measure that would have tightly restricted short-term rentals, the San Francisco-based company has pledged to channel its victory into a nationwide movement of home-sharing.

Proposition F would have capped nightly stays at 75 per year and allowed The City to fine Airbnb and other hosting websites for listing unregistered rentals. The measure lost by a narrow margin with about 55 percent voting against it, and 45 percent in its favor.

Airbnb spent more than $8.5 million to defeat the initiative, making it by far the most expensive campaign in the election.

Company leaders Wednesday morning said every penny was worth it

“This campaign really served as an important function for our community, for the company and in particular for ours hosts to really engage the people of San Francisco and to have a conversation about what home-sharing really is about,” Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s head of global policy and public affairs, said at a news conference at the company’s headquarters.

That’s why Airbnb, on the heels of Tuesday’s election, has announced it will promote communities of home-sharers in other cities, much like the campaign effort to defeat Prop. F. Throughout the next year, the company plans to launch 100 home-sharing clubs in various cities.

“We see a significant historical trend taking place right now,” Lehane said. “We have cities that are changing, we have the huge impact of economic inequality on families, we have the fact that we live in an era of finite resources.”

The change, Lehane explained, is the transition to a sharing economy overall, of which he said Airbnb is among the founders.

But many, including Airbnb leaders, agree that the defeat of Prop. F doesn’t mean the current system is perfect. Lehane conceded that home-sharers who turn apartments or houses into “illegal hotels” are “not in the interest of our company,” customers or hosts.

“Our hosts by and large overwhelmingly do it the right way,” Lehane said. “It’s in our interests, I think it’s in The City’s interests, it’s in everyone’s interest to identify whoever or whatever the bad apples may be out there, and we want to work with cities to do that.”

Dale Carlson, co-founder of ShareBetter SF, which placed Prop. F on the ballot, said the fight to further regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb is far from over.

“We want effective remedies to the problems caused by Airbnb’s short-term rentals,” Carlson said in a statement after election results were released. “We’re prepared to go back to the ballot to ensure residents and neighborhoods are protected from abusive short-term rentals.”

Such an effort could receive a boost from Aaron Peskin, who appears to have been elected to his former District 3 post on the Board of Supervisors in a decisive victory over incumbent challenger Julie Christensen, and is expected to restore power to the progressive faction at City Hall. Over the summer, Christensen supported more lenient revisions to The City’s short-term rental law than her progressive counterparts.

Peskin on Wednesday said he plans to continue talks between City Hall and home-sharing companies to potentially further enforcement.

“I look forward to starting a dialogue with Airbnb and my colleagues on the board to see if we can curb the worst abuses,” Peskin said. “I’m hopeful that perhaps we can negotiate a workable compromise.”

Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee, said she expects to see stricter regulations come before the Board of Supervisors amid its new progressive majority.

“I think we definitely have hope that we can actually get this fixed at the board now that we have a new composition,” Shortt said. “Regardless of the fact that they won, Airbnb and City Hall both felt the heat from [the Prop. F] campaign and I think we raised awareness that San Franciscans are not happy with the status quo.”

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