Economy

Map: How Airbnb Is Fueling San Francisco’s Sky-High Rents

CREDIT: Flickr/LitGreen

Skyrocketing rents in San Francisco are forcing radical change to the city’s social fabric, and new research from a community housing group seeks to pin part of the blame on the so-called “sharing economy.” The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) has published a map of Airbnb and VRBO rental listings that illustrates the sites’ huge influence in the city.

The map shows approximate locations of the 6,788 separate vacation rentals listed in San Francisco through the websites Airbnb and VRBO. The 5,503 Airbnb rentals AEMP found represents a jump of more than 10 percent since last June when the group found fewer than 5,000. In 2012, a San Francisco Chronicle investigation found just 1,800 such listings in the city. The map helps to illustrate the huge footprint that vacation rentals now have in the city’s housing market, as the city prepares to start enforcing a new slate of laws for vacation rentals that city activists say are “flawed and unenforceable,” according to The Verge.

“Our data showed clear evidence of owners acquiring new buildings to turn into vacation rentals with no intentions of ever being landlords,” AEMP wrote in a July report on online vacation rental websites’ influence on the San Francisco housing market. As building owners, property managers, and real estate speculators start to build expected Airbnb or VRBO profits into the prices of buildings in the city, AEMP argues, they drive up rent and home prices for everyone else, exacerbating the broader housing affordability crisis in San Francisco. The group also points to research showing that professional property managers provide far more of the site’s revenue than than individual, amateur tenants: 46 percent of Airbnb’s money comes from such professionals, even though they make up just 30 percent of owner-hosts on the site.

Such criticism is in keeping with a broader popular revolt against the tech sector that has radically reshaped San Francisco even as it brought huge wealth and economic opportunity to the area for high-skilled workers. Income inequality has spiked in the area, and young professionals in less-remunerative lines of work such as public service have had to start commuting into the city from far outside it because they cannot afford to live in San Francisco proper. Reports on the tensions in the city reveal deep resentment toward tech’s newly-minted millionaires and billionaires. Private bus lines for tech workers to commute out of the city rankle both people who rely on underfunded public transportation systems and residents who are being priced out of housing options in their city.

The city’s housing market has become a pressure cooker in recent years, with developers and real estate speculators abusing a 1986 law called the Ellis Act in order to evict long-time residents and clear the way for highly profitable property flipping and redevelopment. A developer’s years-long attempt to evict a 98-year-old San Franciscan who has paid her rent on time for 50 years helped to bring national scrutiny to abuses of the Ellis Act, but efforts to reform the law to better protect tenants have failed both in the legislature and at the ballot box.

Housing affordability is a huge problem in cities across the country. As of last spring, there were at least 90 different U.S. cities where the median cost of rent was more than 30 percent of the median before-tax income of city residents. Housing experts and the federal government use that 30 percent ratio as the dividing line between affordable an unaffordable rent. Nationwide, two renters out of every five faced unaffordable housing costs at the turn of the century. That number is now one in two. And for about one in every four renters, housing costs take up more than half of their income.

As rent has taken a steadily larger chunk out of tenant paychecks, the federal government has exacerbated the problem by pulling back its spending on housing assistance and rental aid. The country spends half as much on affordable housing as it did a decade ago, and fewer than one in four families who are eligible for federal rental assistance programs actually receive any subsidy for their housing.