Positive moral implications of sharing home

Today, the Board of Supervisors will consider legislation to legalize home-sharing. While I agree that this is a complicated issue from a regulation perspective to make sure that the practice is not abused, I urge the supervisors to not lose sight of the great benefits that come when citizens from different cultures come together via Airbnb. The relationships that result are priceless and make our city stronger.

Like most San Franciscans, I think a lot about how to spend my money. I want to support ethical and socially responsible merchants and companies. I go out of my way to buy at farmers markets and support local family producers. As a pastor, I have encouraged my parishioners to boycott companies with unfair labor practices, poor safety records and lousy environmental policies. I have marched with local hotel workers on strike and support them in their pursuit of safe and fair workplaces. In every area of my life, I try to align my actions with my moral commitments.

When we became Airbnb hosts, it was because a pastoral colleague in New York was using the platform to rent out spare bedrooms in her large parsonage to fund social-justice activities through her church. She also found that sharing her living space was a terrific way to practice the biblical principle of offering hospitality to the stranger in a concrete way.

Unfortunately, our apartment is not a parsonage and we are longterm tenants in an eight-unit building. However, we do have two extra spaces to share when friends and family are not visiting. We are considered master tenants for our apartment and as such, we started using Airbnb to share it with guests. At the time, I was also taking an unpaid sabbatical to finish a doctoral degree and the added income helped make ends meet.

What actually happened when we became hosts was quite miraculous. We learned from our guests in ways we could not have imagined. We met a couple from Ukraine who were concerned about family under fire as war moved into their homeland. We welcomed people here to see new grandchildren in our neighborhood and have housed family members of patients getting treatment at nearby UC San Francisco and in hospice at Laguna Honda Hospital. It has become a precious part of my ministry to offer support to these folks who have traveled to San Francisco for such difficult reasons.

And our guests have learned from us about San Francisco values. We have happily shared different ways to compost and recycle and our guests have had a chance to join us in responsible waste disposal as part of fulfilling our city's zero-waste policy. We've discussed world drought, climate change and even discussed how to fund the arts in places like Italy, where public funding is ending. For a couple from North Dakota, I suspect we were the first married same-gender couple they had ever met!

Because we are committed to excellent hospitality, we make sure our guests are considerate of our neighbors and that they keep doors locked and common areas clean. We have expanded our earthquake kits and we have disaster information in our house manual. I have done Neighborhood Emergency Response Team training with the Fire Department and am working with Airbnb to train hosts in hospitality and disaster preparedness. I have found Airbnb to be a responsive and responsible company that is always seeking to support hosts in being better citizens.

I am deeply concerned about the housing crisis in San Francisco and would not and have not removed desperately needed housing stock from the rental market. My spare bedroom is not a rent-controlled unit. It has, however, become an important venue for cultural exchange and a source for helping us continue to afford to live in the city that we love.

The Rev. Melinda V. McLain lives in Twin Peaks and preaches at the Mira Vista United Church of Christ.


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