It helped Marcia Weisbrut get on her feet after cancer. It paid for Rodolfo Cancino's dental bills. It has allowed Greg De Meza to start paying off debts incurred during the recession.
The common thread in all their stories was the short term rental service provided by Airbnb, which is illegal in San Francisco.
The testimonials — some voiced over a P.A. system — were on display in a Bernal Heights backyard Thursday by groups launching the Fair to Share San Francisco campaign. The campaign's aim is simple: Legalize the money-making short term rentals that Airbnb's business model is built upon.
On hand to make their case were a collection of short-term rental hosts, representatives of Airbnb and Peers, a “sharing economy” advocate.
The push comes amidst efforts by local leaders to solve or at least ameliorate a severe housing shortage combined with steep rents, which some Airbnb opponents have linked to the company, among others.
Into that fray, the campaign aims to back legislation like Board of Supervisors President David's Chiu's proposal to regulate and legalize short term rentals.
As for Thursday's event, actual people who rent their homes may have participated, even some who've banded together to advocate for themselves, but much of the organizing and almost all of the funding came from Airbnb.
“They [Airbnb] did contact me,” said De Meza in whose home — $90 a night for a room– the event was held. “Do you mind telling your story?” they asked Meza.
Weisbrut — $79 a night for a room in her Duboce Triangle rent controlled apartment– came to the event after “people who work for them [Airbnb] called me,” she said. “They're pretty organized.”
The same was true for Cancino, who rents out a room in his Western Addition home.
The brochures for Fair to Share San Francisco laid out on tables at the house were also paid for by Airbnb, said Peter Kwan, who heads Home Shares of San Francisco, one of the groups in the coalition.
Even the P.A. system, said its operator, was paid for by Airbnb. And once most of the hosts had left, four Airbnb employees cleaned up from the event.
Nick Papas, an Airbnb spokesman, said the company is proud of its part in the campaign to educate people about the benefits of “home sharing,” which are making The City a better place to live. Airbnb hosts in San Francisco have used the funds to pay their bills, stay in their homes and host tourists, he said.
For his part, Kwan said his group is not a shill for Airbnb. Short-term rental hosts and Airbnb are working together and have similar goals, he said, but the hosts are not beholden to Airbnb, even if the company's resources help organize and pay for events like Thursday's.
Emily Benkert, a 17-year city resident who rents out rooms in her Bernal Heights home and has started a business that helps people run their Airbnb rentals, said the service is not a detriment to The City. “This isn't hurting anybody,” she said. “We're not kicking people into the street.”
Instead, she argues, Airbnb's absence would force people to leave San Francisco since the extra income they make is what allows them to stay.