Airbnb's Sassy San Francisco Billboards Backfire Hard

Earlier this week, San Francisco residents began to notice some less-than-subtle billboards popping up around the city. “Dear Public Library System,” one read, “We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later. Love, Airbnb.”

“Dear Board of Education, Please use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep art in schools,” said another.

In another city, the ads might have merited no more than an eye roll, but in SF, which is in the midst of an affordable-housing crisis, they stoked already high tensions between the business community and long-term residents. Many local San Franciscans were quick to call the ad campaign out for its petulant tones, and the media piled on. “Sorry Airbnb, you don’t get a gold star for paying taxes,” announced a headline in the Washington Post.

Airbnb's response was swift, and by Thursday morning the company had apologized for its poor taste and promised to take down the billboards.

The ad campaign came in advance of a public vote on Proposition F, which would impose stricter restrictions on the use of Airbnb in the city, and was likely meant to portray the service as a boon, rather than a burden, for the city. Proponents of Prop F argue that the company takes homes out of the long-term housing market and instead allows owners and tenants to profit off short-term rentals.

Share Better SF, an activist group that supports the measure, questions the relevance. “If Airbnb wants to collect and remit hotel taxes on behalf of its hosts, that's its prerogative,” Dale Carlson of Share Better SF said in an email to R29. “But nothing in Prop F changes any aspect of the tax matter one iota.”

Airbnb, for its part, denies any role in the city's affordable-housing problems. In a phone call to R29 this morning, Christopher Nulty of Airbnb claimed that of the city's 5,000 listings, 94% of them are people listing their long-term residence. “Prop F is a hotel-backed measure that is falsely drawing a line between regular San Franciscans sharing their homes and a decades-long housing crisis,” he said.

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