Airbnb rentals cut deep into SF housing stock, report says 

click to enlarge Susan Whetzel was evicted from her 18th Street apartment in the Mission last year after more than 10 years paying $1,700 a month in rent. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Susan Whetzel was evicted from her 18th Street apartment in the Mission last year after more than 10 years paying $1,700 a month in rent.
San Francisco is once again debating how best to regulate short-term rental websites like Airbnb, after a law legalizing the practice went into effect less than four months ago.

City planners have since said the law is unenforceable and needs to change, a position supported by Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors.

But just how to strengthen the law remains a point of contention, as does the question of what impact short-term rentals are having on San Francisco’s housing stock.

Today, a report will be released by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose that provides new analysis of the impact of short-term rentals on The City, drawing comparisons between longer-term hosts and evictions and estimating that in some neighborhoods Airbnb units could comprise as much as 40 percent of potential rentals.

Requested by Supervisor David Campos, the report comes just four days before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee is expected vote on how to amend the short-term rental regulations that took effect Feb. 1.

Between 925 and 1,960 units citywide have been removed from the housing market by hosts renting out entire units on Airbnb for more than 58 days, the report estimates. While this total comprises a small fraction of San Francisco’s 244,012 rental units, it does represent up to 23.2 percent of the total citywide vacant units, which are estimated at 8,438, the report says.

Airbnb is not the only short-term rental website with listings in San Francisco — VRBO, for example, is the second-most popular — but the report only analyzed Airbnb because data for other companies was unavailable. The report notes that “rentals for private and shared rooms would reduce the available rental stock even further.”

The data was not provided by Airbnb, but rather compiled through online research.

The impact in San Francisco varies by neighborhood, with the greatest impacts in the Mission, Haight-Ashbury/Western Addition, Castro-Eureka Valley and Potrero Hill-South Beach.

In the Haight, for example, nearly 32 percent of the vacant rental housing units were listed on Airbnb, some 122 total. In the Mission, 29 percent of potential rentals, or 199, were listed on the website. Another estimate says the Mission percentage could be as high as 40 percent and as high as 43 percent in the Haight.

“Airbnb has made a lot of claims that they are not impacting our housing stock. This demonstrates that they clearly are,” Campos said during an interview with The San Francisco Examiner. “And that in some neighborhoods like the Mission the impact is so significant that it’s definitely pushing people out.”

The report draws a comparison between the number of evictions in neighborhoods with the most hosts, though notes there is no way to draw a direct connection. In the Mission, for example, there were 315 hosts last year and 323 evictions.

“There seems to be a connection,” Campos said. “We won’t know for sure until we actually get Airbnb to give us the information.”

The report draws a distinction between commercial hosts, those booked in excess of 58 days, and casual hosts, and bases its analysis on 6,113 Airbnb listings identified in December, of which nearly 4,200 were casual hosts. The impact on the housing stock is based on commercial hosts, which the report defines as those not supplementing living expenses but treating short-term rentals as a steady source of income.

Those debating the regulations talk about striking the right balance, such as with the cap on the number of allowable stays per year. Current law states there can only be 90 days for unhosted stays but unlimited days when a host is present. That is being proposed to change to 120 days for all types of stays by the Planning Commission. Campos is pushing for a 60-day cap. A proposed short-term rental measure for the November ballot proposes a 75-day cap.

The report said that if the existing regulations were enforced, the current listings of 6,113 would decrease to 5,557. With the 120-day cap, they would decline to 5,706. A 60-day cap would lower them to 4,471.

The advent of the short-term rental explosion through online platforms has brought a new wave of housing challenges. For example, tenants who were hosts of short-term rentals received 145 eviction notices this year. Other tenants, like Susan Whetzel, may have been evicted by building owners in order to turn their units into short-term rentals. Whetzel was evicted from her 18th Street apartment in the Mission last year after more than 10 years paying $1,700 a month in rent. She is currently suing the landlord, who she says evicted her for a condo conversion in order to sell the apartment, but in the meantime she is living next door with neighbors.

Whetzel and her attorney say the landlord is using the unit as a short-term rental. The 43-year-old private tutor of autistic youth said she hopes her story can do some good in inspiring tougher and enforceable regulations.

“Maybe people would think twice about evicting people and then basically running their own hotel and not being there at all,” Whetzel said.

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