Saturday, October 24, 2020
Uncategorized We're back -- with housing battles, the mayor vs....

We’re back — with housing battles, the mayor vs. Wiener, Airbnb … it never ends

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48hillsairbnbreport

By Tim Redmond

AUG. 4, 2014 – So many things happened while we were away – and no surprise, much of it had to do with housing.

Let’s start with Airbnb, VRBO and the short-term rental scam. The City Planning Department is the latest to weigh in on the proposal by Sup. David Chiu to regulate the use of apartments and houses as tourist hotel rooms. Planners suggest – correctly – that legalizing even the amount of short-term rentals that Chiu suggests would eat into the city’s affordable rental housing stock.

That’s confirmed by a detailed report on VRBO use complied by the ant—eviction mapping project. The report shows that vacation rentals are in fact driving up housing costs by reducing the supply of rental housing – and by giving landlords an incentive not to rent to local residents, since there’s more money in the tourist trade.

Check out this case study:

BJ is a leading realtor who has for many years lived and specialized in Noe Valley. Her husband Malcolm is a marketing executive in a software company. They and their 16-year-old Shar Pei, Zelda, split their time between Noe Valley and the Sonoma Wine Country.

BJ and Malcom own a five-unit building in Noe Valley and four of their neutraly decorated units are available year round to rent. They also own and rent out two other “homes” in Sonoma.

At the time of writing, the average rent for a two-bedroom in Noe Valley was $4084 – an increase of $452, or 11 percent, since our first study in 2012.

BJ and Malcom’s rental prices also increased over this time from $1600 in 2012 to $2000 per week in 2014, although their costs as owners probably did not increase.

Their nightly rate increased from $275 in 20123 to $325 in 2014 – and 18 percent increase.

If we assume most tourists rent for the week for their discounted weekly rate of $1000, they will earn $32,000 in four months ($8000 per month/$128,000 per year.) This constitutes 195 percent of what market-rate tenants would pay.

In other words: Why rent to local tenants when you can make so much more by skirting those pesky zoning laws and becoming a tourist hotel?

Anyone of any political stripe has to admit that this is driving up housing costs in San Francisco.

Now then: Airbnb “hosts” are getting together to protect the right to “share.” But there’s another side to this story. In the case of VRBO, 31 percent of the identifiable owners list more than one unit for rent. Airbnb admits that 30 percent of its “hosts” list more than the one unit they live in.

An estimated 783 units are on VRBO that would be rent-controlled if offered to long-term tenants.

In fact, the study found “clear evidence” that owners are buying up buildings with no intention of ever becoming traditional landlords. They just want to turn the units into illegal hotel rooms.

And since the city has done next to nothing to enforce its own laws, the lucrative practice has continued – taking desperately needed housing off the market.

And for all the mayor’s talk of the need to build more housing, the most valuable housing in the city is existing affordable rental housing. It costs far more to build affordable housing than it does to protect the rent-controlled apartments we already have.

There’s another element that plays into the local political scene. Since a significant number of Airbnb “hosts” are themselves renters, some tenant advocates have worked with Chiu to legalize the practice in the name of protecting tenants from eviction.

Subletting is a violation of just about every lease in the city. You rent your apartment out on Airbnb, you face a perfectly legal eviction.

The report raises the critical question:

Is it more important to protect ALL tenants from eviction threats, OR to curb behavior that conflicts with the goal of de-commodifying housing? Do you ban vacation rentals for everyone and watch as tenants who host on Airbnb get evicted? Or do you “legalize it” and let owners and tenants profit off their homes and drive up rents? It also undermines arguments of the importance of rent control; there is a hypocrisy in renters who want their rent to be price-controlled while at the same time seeking unlimited profits themselves from their rented homes.

The Chiu legislation comes up for a hearing this week at the Planning Commission. The planners who reviewed the bill want to see two key changes: A reduction in the allowable number of days that a residential unit can be rented as a hotel room – and a public listing of who is doing it.

Chiu wants to allow people to convert their homes to hotel rooms 180 days a year. The planners want 90. That would undermine the professionals who are simply in this to violate the laws against taking rental housing off the market. And an accurate map of where it’s happening would allow activists to track how no-fault evictions correlate with vacation rentals.

This is going to be one of the hottest political issues of the fall. Particularly since what would have been a huge battle over the city’s commitment to affordable housing was diluted when Sup. Jane Kim agreed to compromise with the mayor around her affordable housing legislation.

 

Wow, the campaign over Kim’s ballot measure would have been epic. What she proposed was something affordable housing advocates have talked about for years – and back when I was at the Bay Guardian, I was able to make an issue in the last mayor’s race. We’re talking about halting the construction of market-rate housing until the city finds a way to meet its own stated goals for the balance of luxury vs. affordable housing.

It turns out that we can’t legally just halt all new market-rate housing. What we can do, and what Kim’s legislation would have done, is mandate that market-rate projectgs go through a more-extensive planning process if the ratio of affordable units falls below 30 percent.

The developers howled, howled all the way to Mayor Lee’s Office, and the mayor put his own “poison pill” measure on the ballot.

Now Kim has backed off, and accepted a much more mild version of her plan. It contains lots of nice language and lots of promises – but there’s no penalty for the private market-rate developers if the city can’t meet its affordability goals.

Which means there is no incentive for the developers to accept lower profits and to build more housing for the rest of us. Which means nothing is really going to change.

See, for better or for worse, we live in a hyper-capitalist society, and until there’s a way to cut some of the profit out of the housing market, condos will continue to be built for and sold to the highest bidders. And those won’t be the majority of the working people who live in San Francisco.

Oh, and for the market-driven folks who still believe that we can build our way out of the problem by increasing the density of the city, you might consider this somewhat academic but interesting paper. In New York, for example,

New Yorkers with garden-variety affluence—the kind of buyers who require mortgages—are facing disheartening price wars as they compete for scarce inventory with investors who may seldom even turn on a light switch. The Census Bureau estimates that 30 percent of all apartments in the quadrant from 49th to 70th Streets between Fifth and Park are vacant at least ten months a year.

That’s what happens when you allow global hyper-capitalism to rule your local housing market.

 

I missed all the fighting over Sup. Scott Wiener’s attempt to tie Muni funding to population growth (which Randy Shaw says is “divisive,” meaning that the mayor opposes it.) One of the interesting elements is that Wiener is pretty typically an ally of the mayor – but in this case, he’s gone after Lee pretty directly.  In an email that he sent me, Wiener is surprisingly harsh:

On Wednesday, in what can only be described as an empty scare tactic, the Mayor’s Office announced that due solely to the transit measure (totaling .25% of the budget), all departments were directed to formulate emergency 1.5% contingency cuts for the 2015/16 fiscal year. The Mayor’s Office further indicated that the cuts will be directed at the “priorities” of the six Supervisors who voted to place the measure on the ballot. For whatever reason, the Mayor’s Office felt the need to issue these emergency instructions now – a full year before the fiscal year at issue, in the middle of an election campaign, without even knowing whether the measure will pass, and regarding an amount of money that is tiny in the context of the budget. Moreover, there will be a full budget process next spring for the 2015/16 fiscal year, and if the measure passes, the $22 million at issue will simply be part of that budget.

What the Mayor’s Office neglected to mention in its announcement is the existence of a $32 million hole in MTA’s budget for the 2015/16 fiscal year. If this gap isn’t filled – and Supervisor Wiener’s measure will fill two-thirds of it – MTA will have to forego plans to purchase new vehicles, rehabilitate run down vehicles, replace failing train switches and signals, rehabilitate broken station elevators, make needed pedestrian safety improvements, and implement the Embarcadero Bikeway.

 

Some of the opponents of the Muni measure say that it’s going to lead to cuts in social programs – and prevent raises for nonprofit workers under city contracts.

But the odd thing about joining the mayor on this is that his current budget already screws nonprofit workers. He refused to put a substantive wage increase in the spending plan. He’s doing nothing to make sure that the people who do a lot of the social service work of the city get paid anything close to a living wage.

So the notion that funding Muni at higher levels cuts into nonprofit wages depends on a false version of political reality. The mayor isn’t giving more money to the low-paid workers right now. He will only be forced to do that if the supervisors (including many of those supporting the Muni funding) mandate it. Whatever happens with the Muni measure, helping the nonprofit workers isn’t a part of the mayor’s agenda. Maybe he can defeat the measure – and I promise, if he does, not one dollar will go for higher wages for the folks who help make this city a humane place.

Also: The big transit bond that everyone likes has nothing to do with funding day-to-day Muni operations. You can use bond money to buy new buses, but not to hire drivers to put them on the roads. And that’s what Muni needs.

So how does this play out? The mayor is almost certainly bluffing – he’s not going to get away with cutting social services in such a boom year. And he’s pissing off his usual allies – all over a fairly tiny part of the city’s budget.

Willie Brown got away with strong-arming the supes, in part because he appointed most of them and could control their money. With district elections, it’s harder to do – and Ed Lee doesn’t have Willie Brown’s political skill.

Seems like a dumb fight to me.

Part of what Wiener is complaining about is the mayor’s failure to support an increase in the local Vehicle License Fee. Lee says he’s backed off on that effort because the polls showed it’s not popular.

Of course it’s not popular — now. Nobody wants to pay more taxes. But this is one of of those moments where political leaders decide to use, or withhold, political capital.

Gov. Jerry Brown is using his political capital to continue the push for high-speed rail, which is getting ridiculed by the mainstream media and is tanking in the polls. Brown has high approval ratings and no credible opposition, so he’s telling the people of the state: If you like me, follow me on this.

He’s right, of course — high-speed rail between SF and LA, even at $68 billion, is a great idea, something that years from now we will all look back at and say: Why did it take this long?

Ed Lee has high popularity ratings and at this point no clear opponent in the next mayoral race. He could say: If you like me, follow me on this. The VLF will save Muni. He could go to his friends in the tech world and say: Give me money and use your social media wizardry to make the case for this plan. He could use his political capital to raise the poll numbers and try to convince the public that this is a great idea.

He has chosen not to. He has abandoned the VLF not because it’s impossible, but because he decided, at this moment, not to use his political capital to pass it.

What makes it all so crazy: We could fund Muni just fine if we forced developers to pay the actual costs of the transit impacts of their projects – every year. How much does it cost to add the necessary Muni service for, say, the Twitter building? Or the Salesforce project? There are actual studies on this. They say that it costs more, much more, than the developers and corporations currently have to pay. This isn’t a new tax; it’s a perfectly legal fee, based on the cost of providing service, and it’s a vast store of money.

The $22 million at issue here? Peanuts.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

20 COMMENTS

  1. You’re closing in on insight and conversion!

    As you reason, it’s true that all income derived while interacting with others is, in the most comprehensive sense, a social phenomenon, and for that reason I believe an argument can be made for socializing a portion of that income, but there remains an existential difference between income derived from actual mental and physical effort to CREATE a good or service on one side, and from income derived from merely owning Nature/land on the other side. Land has no production cost. Acquiring it brings nothing new into human experience except the condition of legal and coercive exclusion of others from access to Nature. There is nothing analogous to this in the rest of nature. Instead, every plant and animal must constantly adapt to the constantly evolving competition (market) for habitat or be squeezed out or perish. The rent potential of land is analogous to that competitive competition for habitat that results in natural selection.

    What payment to society of the annual rent potential of the unimproved value of a parcel of land achieves is natural selection of the use of that parcel by the market experience, but the simultaneous conversion of that value into the public purse to be employed as the social opportunity cost in no one else getting to use that parcel for their own private purpose.

    Your Bill Gates reference is a sound one, and illustrates my point. You say, “Surely Bill Gates could not have accumulated a net worth of 70 billion dollars unless our society/community has decided to value his PRODUCTS and SERVICES.”

    Bill Gates provided products and services. Merely owning land is neither a product nor a service. It is a monopoly. (And it should be said that to the extent Gates and Co. practiced monopolistic behavior in their advance of Microsoft, certainly to that extent he deserved no portion of his income derived from that means.)

    You also write, “We are certainly free to structure society that way. but, at least in this nation, we have never chosen to nor look likely to. As a nation, we prefer to tax transactions rather than wealth, and a land tax is a tax on wealth and should be seen as such.”

    Well, you are quite right that “we have never chosen to” see land AS NOT BEING WEALTH. Would call a slave wealth? Or would you recognize a human being held as property as a travesty of being a human being? Yes, the experience of the slave owner holding control of another person is as though that other human being is wealth. But it’s an absurdity and immoral, isn’t it?

    Similarly, to call land wealth is a mere convenience of language to disguise our own culpability in justifying the alienation of the equal right of all human beings to employ nature itself (the unimproved value of land). To call the earth mine and demand a sharecropper’s rent from you as a condition for your mere use of the earth is tantamount to slavery. To socialize that land rent is the most sublime recognition of our coequal spiritual and physical existence in the palpable universe.

  2. If you are going to argue that the value of land is conferred solely by the community and therefore can in no way reasonably accrue to the owner then, by the same argument, you might aver that any other profits, gains or income from any asset is likewise conferred.

    Surely Bill Gates could not have accumulated a net worth of 70 billion dollars unless our society/community has decided to value his products and services. So why not tax his profits and assets in the same way?

    What you are really arguing is that the accretion of individual wealth cannot happen without the affirmative approbation of the community. And so in a sense nothing really belongs to an individual.

    We are certainly free to structure society that way. but, at least in this nation, we have never chosen to nor look likely to. As a nation, we prefer to tax transactions rather than wealth, and a land tax is a tax on wealth and should be seen as such.

    I think we could tax land as you desire. The issue is more which taxes you then abolish and how much compensation is paid to those who lose out? And it is those topics where your argument appears to fall short.

  3. Sam, Sam, Sam,

    I really do appreciate that a Land Value Tax, and more comprehensively the social philosophy that goes with it, is novel for most thinkers today, but you (really) must read more attentively.

    I did not say that providing a home is like owning slaves, I said that owning the physical space of society is tantamount to owning slaves. My “physical space of society” I mean nature itself. The land under the buildings of San Francisco. Under the farm buildings of America. Under the industrial machinery of the world. I have said multiple times that what I propose to collect as public revenue is the potential rent of the unimproved value of land.

    My owning the earth and telling/obliging others that they must pay me to occupy it is slavery. There is no superior right to possess the earth on any person’s part as against any other person’s right to exist. With the growth of society there arises a value that attaches to place that is quite apart from the improvements upon or to the particular parcel in question.

    I don’t question John C. Calhoun’s right to have provided (or not) superior or inferior housing for anybody, much less for those he constitutionally treated as his property; however, I would have then and certainly do now challenge the right of Calhoun or myself to demand payment from another human being for the mere opportunity to use the earth unless I have first satisfied the equal economic interest of the rest of society in the unimproved value of that bit of earth. By satisfying “the equal economic interest of the rest of society” I mean the payment of the potential rent of the parcel minus the value of any improvements to or upon it.

    NOTE: For anyone else taking the time to read this exchange between myself and Sam, please know that this is not idle time spent. Sam is, to a degree far surpassing yours, interested in the recent unpleasantness in the world of real estate in San Francisco. Once he gets a grip of Land Value Taxation, he’ll be a tenacious and first-tier champion of the free market and georgist social justice. Neither he nor I would spend as much time as we do on the subject if we didn’t believe there was something fundamentally flawed in conventional analysis.

    The difference between Sam and myself at present is the perception on my part that nature itself in its social context (a piece of land having desirability in society) has a value wholly attributable to community. Sam currently esteems private ownership of nature value on par with private ownership of one’s own labor and material/intellectual creation.

    Conventional analysis dismisses the market for goods and services as immoral or treats the private ownership of the value of what we could call God’s Creation as perfectly appropriate. The former would abrogate principles of nature itself, while the latter would steal nature itself.

  4. So providing someone with a home is like owning slaves?

    Tell you what. Get that pesky constitution changed and then we’ll take about confiscatory initiatives. I look forward to seeing your proposal on the ballot.

  5. Yeah, I agree that in 1861 ending slavery without compensating the owners wouldn’t pass muster with the constitution and the electorate, and that in 2014 ending the ability of some to collect rent from others for the audacity of occupying the physical space of society won’t pass muster with the constitution and the electorate.

    Call me an Abolitionist.

  6. I’m not sure why you’ve changed your name there, but what you are really proposing there is a monumental taking of wealth. You admit that such a change would push land prices to zero, and maybe they would. But don’t you think that’s a little harsh on folks who have invested in land and property, only to see the rug get pulled from under them?

    Simply reducing some other taxes wouldn’t help those who would face catastrophic losses. You need to explain how you will compensate those who have suffered such a taking. And I doubt whether anything other than full financial compensation would pass constitutional muster.

    Your reference to feudal times is interesting because you are basically seeking to replace Robin Hood with the Sheriff of Nottingham, And I can’t see the voters going for that.

    But hey, anyone is entitled to an idea. Why not put it on the ballot and see how it does?

  7. A full land value tax–collecting all but a little of the rent potential of the unimproved value of a parcel–would obviate the need for the federal and state income taxes, as well as the sales tax and business taxes.

    As for practice, this tax was the standard during the feudal era. Land rents went to the lord or the church. Problems arose when the lord and church didn’t use these revenues for infrastructure or taking care of the orphan, widow or maimed, but instead added on poll tax and more than tithe rent on land. The enclosures and subsequent redistribution of land title from crown to private parties (nobles) chucked the feudal system with its custom of obligations to the people on the part of king and church.

    Taxing the rent of land will drive the sales price of land towards ZERO. That’s “how raising the cost of something would” . . . “makes its cost cheaper.” Low sales price to land means little money to borrow for purchase of land, hence little indebtedness on land’s account. Briefly, dissociating land from debt reforms the money system beautifully. Money ceases being borrowed to buy something which has no production cost (land) and is only borrowed to create goods and services. Bye-bye inflation! Debt/money issued to acquire nature is inflationary, whereas money/debt issued to create goods and services is ipso facto its own balance sheet! New goods and services = debt, with the creation of new goods and services replacing that debt.

    I’m still looking for your participation in either or both of my walking tours which decidedly address all of your cogent real estate concerns.

    TheCommonsSF.org

  8. It’s not clear how raising the cost of something would ever make its cost cheaper. But if you want to be taken seriously I’d suggest that you first list which taxes would be reduced or abolished to compensate for this massive taking. I’d suggest abolishing the State’s income and sales taxes, for instance. While insuring that any new “land tax” in no case exceeds the current Prop 13 basis for a property.

    Less theory, more practice, dude.

  9. Why do you believe that if I could be stopped from renting out my unit via airbnb, that I would immediately rent it out to a long-term tenant?

    The basic fact is that the city’s rent ordinance has made that so unattractive that I would never do that. either my unit is Airbnb’ed or it is sold as a TIC. Which is your preference, Tim?

  10. Most bond measures allow pass-throughs to tenants. If they did not, then people would simply vote for “free stuff”.

  11. I’ve seen various studies that have shown that anything between 10,000 and 40,000 housing units are held off the market. I will near guarantee you that all of them would be subject to rent control, if rented out.

    So the criticisms of rent control that have long been mounted are shown to be valid. If you over-control the rents and returns that a landlord can get, then that landlord will quite simply decline to re-rent a unit whenever he has a vacancy.

    So even without Ellis and OMI evictions, there is a slow, gradual and inevitable trend to suppress the re-renting of units subject to rent control. It is the city’s own rent laws that reduce supply and cause rents to rise.

  12. Yes, I meant to say “Transportation” Bond. I was fixated on Muni I guess because they sure know how to go through the money. They waste it hugely and voters need to send them a message. Details at SaveMuni.org

  13. Which Muni bond contains a pass-through provision? Are you referring to the Mayor’s $500 million dollar, (with $350 million interest) Transportation Bond?

  14. When renters find out that the big Muni bond contains a pass-through provision it will go down in flames. Maybe that’s why Lee is acting jittery about opposition to other parts of his agenda as November approaches. The mayor might be on the way to getting a rep. for being unable to deliver the goods, and that might not bode well for his reelection next year.

  15. Sharing is Shearing!

    The word share does not mean what most people think about.

    If you look up SHARE in the dictionary you will find:

    1. a part or portion of a larger amount that is divided among a number of people, or to which a number of people contribute

    2. one of the equal parts into which a company’s capital is divided, entitling the holder to a proportion of the profits

    3. part proprietorship of property held by joint owners

    4. the allotted or due amount of something that a person expects to have or to do, or that is expected to be accepted or done by

    So you see, the sharing economy is really all about the taking of one’s “share” of profits.

  16. It is utter nonsense to believe that what is happening in SF & NY, among other cities, is nothing short of criminal fraud. We’ve come to expect as much from certain speculators in the real estate and rental management sectors but there’s another sector that is under reported and virtually free of criticism. These are the ‘rent control collaborators’. People who already receive the benefits of affordable living through rent control/stabilization. There are far too many ‘residents’ who, in reality, don’t even live in their apartments full time who are gouging visitors while keeping affordable rental units from ever seeing the light of day again.

    For example, one San Francisco woman lives on the other side of the country 8-9 months of the year while renting her studio in the Mission for $120/night, four times what her pro rated costs are from a controlled rent of $900/month.

    In New York, a couple that I have rented from in the past, via AirBnB, has two low income, subsidized apartments between them and have used the short term rental income from these to buy a condo in the neighborhood while keeping the affordable units away from others who need them.

    Back in SF, there’s a guy I met at a bar in the Mission who explained that he moved to the city in 2011 with a business plan and 10,000 bucks to his name. He found a two bedroom rent controlled apartment and within two months was renting the second room via AirBnB. Six months later he was living with a girlfriend and making 200% profit over his rental costs. This allowed him to rent a second rent controlled apartment, a three bedroom unit, which he barely set foot in but from which he extracts massive profits while keeping at least five people from a place to call home in the city.

    These are the types of people that AirBnB are holding up as their poster children in PR campaigns across the country. Just ‘regular folks’ that AirBnB is helping ‘make ends meet’. The current valuation of AirBnB is anywhere between 6 -10 billion dollars as they fancy themselves as ‘community developers’, a catch phrase Orwell might’ve coined.

    In the case of AirBnB, we should change the catch phrase ‘Sharing Economy’ to ‘Shearing Economy’ and start focusing on their collaborators who are the spearheads of a program of dividing and conquering the communities they do business in…

  17. Tim, glad you’re back, and that you’re back in the signal issue of the new and foreseeable century for San Francisco, namely housing. My comments will dwindle from the end of this week as I resume my teaching position next week, so the regulars can breath easy that my pesky observation that land values belong to community, and that if they were socialized we’d get all the socialism Tim wants with all the liberty and pro-market circumstance that business advocates want.

    Your article sets out the case for socializing land values beautifully. Because it is the value known to Realtors as “location, location, location” which rises over time, not the value of the wood, bricks, metal and appliances of housing itself which goes up, it is obviously not the price of housing as such that accounts for the zooming/creeping/leaping/upwardly mobile price of “housing.” It is the price of land. The growth of community created the price of land. Community should get that value.

    When that happens, all those making out with fatter pockets because they are currently skimming and shoveling the community-generated value of land into their wallets will cease playing the short term rental landlord game. The land value tax will eat up for the community what they get by checking people in and out. Instead, landlords will choose the more efficient (for them) labor of checking tenants in once a year or so rather than the constant labor of checking in and out weekly.

    When land lords are only rewarded for the services they provide–the actual structure and the maintenance/management of the rental, and not for the mere location of the rental, they’ll no longer have the slop income from location subsidizing their weekly booking, cleaning, blah blah expenditure of calories.

    Go for the meat, Tim; then you don’t have to struggle and whine to get cross-subsidies from labor and capital to assist those who need subsidizing to continue paying BJ and Malcom and me and other landlords our unearned, community-generated income from land values!

    Remember, the land values won’t disappear. We either socialize them because we, the community, generated them, or we must subsidize the below-market-salaried paying the speculatively high rents we induce by leaving community-generated land values to landlords.

    Your pick.

  18. Has anybody conducted any counts of empty housing units that are off the rental market? Empty condos, apartments, flats, etc. owned by people who do not live in the city, and either rent them out on a short term basis or keep them empty as extra vacation homes or investment properties?
    That would be a good place to start any conversation about housing shortages.

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