On November 3, San Francisco voted. About 30% of registered voters voted. Mayor Ed Lee was re-elected; Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was shown the door; various ballot initiatives passed or failed.
At a high level, the referenda up for ballot were about balancing growth, preservation and affordability in a land-constrained, ever-more-expensive city: San Francisco. Local Measures A (city restores old buildings); D (Mission Rock); F (short-term rentals); I (moratorium on development in the Mission); J (legacy business fund); and K (surplus city lands) were all manifestations of this same root tension. In general, the city seems to have voted for balance: growth (or not stopping growth) in the case of Measures D and I; and making allowances for non-market rate housing in Measures A, J and K. And Measure F? We’ll get to that below.
During this election we discovered the San Francisco Ethics Commission‘s incredibly useful campaign finance dashboards, complete with Tableau visualizations showing the mosaic of donors supporting candidates and local measures. Sean Parker was the biggest backer of Prop A. Who knew? It wasn’t in the press. But it’s here, in tile form, thanks to SF Ethics and Tableau, as shown to the left.
Which gets us to Prop F, aka Initiative to Restrict Short Term Residential Rentals, aka the (anti) AirBnB initiative. AirBnB won, which is to say Proposition F was voted down. Below is a visualization of Proposition F’s finances, For and Against. This is a decidedly simpler mosaic than, say, Prop A. And one that is not equally distributed between For and Against, as shown in the screen capture below.
As shown, AirBnB spent about $8M contributing to Prop F’s demise, as has been well-covered. It was here that we did some back-of-the-envelope math on the return on this investment, as follows:
133,583 votes were cast on Prop F. By itself, this comes to about $60/vote, whether yea or nay. Of these, we assume 49,426 were homeowners, which reflects the rate of home ownership in San Francisco. (We acknowledge not all AirBnB hosts are homeowners, and that homeowners might have higher voter turnout. Remember, this is an exercise.) $7,965,225 campaign contributions / 49,426 homeowner votes = $161 spent per homeowner vote. This only accounts for campaign contributions, by the way.
Next, we drew upon Inside AirBnB to try and justify that expenditure.
Inside AirBnB estimates a typical San Francisco hosts 138 nights per year at $221/night. Seem high? That’s 11.5 nights per month. 3 nights / week would make that viable.
Prop F would have capped rentals at 75 / year. The delta at stake, then, assuming 138 nights per year is typical, is 63 nights. 63 nights * $221/night * 12% AirBnB fee = $1670.76 at stake for AirBnB *per host*. With that math, AirBnB’s campaign contributions seem quite rational. (Addendum: AirBnB cited 65 nights per year for “entire units” in this analysis by the Chronicle. A companion article says the average AirBnB guest stays 5.5 nights, so two stays per month would get to the 11.5/month figure for an active host. h/t to Emey for sharing these.)
Gary Kamiya, in the Taking It to the Street chapter (on Occupy) of his opus Cool Gray City of Love, described San Francisco as “becoming a city divided between those who are grandfathered in and those who are rich enough to buy their way in. Those who get shafted are the young and middle-class who want to move here.” That lends a lot of context to this week’s election. We thank the SF Ethics Commission for helping make it a little more transparent.
– Jon & Sandro