What Uber’s Win in NYC Means for Airbnb and the Housing Market in San Francisco

What Uber’s Win in NYC Means for Airbnb and the Housing Market in San Francisco

Yesterday, we saw the conclusion of a heated, public debate of Uber’s fate in New York City – and with it, a win for the tech industry overall.


At issue was the congestion caused by Uber’s operations in the city, which the de Blasio administration asserted may be causing slower traffic speeds in Manhattan. But the city backed down from pursuing its plan to cap Uber’s annual growth yesterday when the company agreed to share data to support a study of city traffic patterns.


This classic old guard vs. new guard standoff that Uber has been fighting for years in municipalities everywhere provides lessons for Airbnb’s fate in San Francisco. Positive economic impacts were the crux of Uber’s argument, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo defending the company as “one of the great inventions of this new economy,” adding, “I don’t think government should be in the business of trying to restrict job growth.”


The impacts of Airbnb on the San Francisco economy are also in the crosshairs of a controversial ballot initiative in San Francisco that would limit Airbnb listings in the city to 75 days per year and ban the rental of in-law units. Just this week, Airbnb reported its own findings that $58 million in San Francisco tax revenue would be at stake if the measure passes in the November election.


With housing supply an ongoing concern in San Francisco, many are wondering if San Francisco would be negatively impacted if the measure becomes law. A review by the San Francisco Chronicle found that at least 350 units appear to be permanently rented out on Airbnb, which pales in comparison to the city’s total housing stock of approximately 380,000 units. Overall, Airbnb listings account for roughly 5,500 units, compared to the 34,000 hotel rooms offered in the city.


Just as New York City was working to control negative externalities from new technology, so is San Francisco. The lesson for both camps in the debate is that a renewed commitment to transparency and a spirit of compromise is necessary to reach a détente, meet consumers’ needs and uphold the shared responsibility to do what’s best for the public overall.

Tom MacLeod
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