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Vexed in the city: The 'sharing' economy's hidden toll on San Francisco

by Jarrod Devlin (2020-11-07)

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This story is part of a that examines the controversy gripping San Francisco as a massive influx of techies feeds an unprecedented economic boom -- and backlash.SAN FRANCISCO -- When Brad Worrell visited San Francisco on business last summer, he stayed in an Airbnb rental for the first time in the city's Castro district. He wasn't sure what to expect. He typically stays in hotels, but his company booked him a "Castro Gem" just a short walk to the studio where he'd be working for a few weeks.He loved it. "I thought it was a really cute neighborhood. I was psyched when I got there," Worrell says. "It was one of those classic San Francisco apartments with high ceilings."summer-of-hate-2937-2.jpgVexed in the city: CNET looks at how San Francisco is dealing with its tech boom.
James Martin/CNET
One other thing became quickly evident to Worrell: no one lived there."I've stayed in vacation rentals before and they had that vibe of 'supply just what you need','" he says. "I would say there was definitely the minimum required."This Castro Gem is a San Franciscan's dream apartment -- two bedrooms, one bath, with bay windows, a huge kitchen, and a fireplace. It's located on a quiet residential street, steps from prime locations including Mission Dolores Park and Market Street.

More from the "Vexed in the City" series

For Worrell, it was a choice booking. But for some lawmakers, housing advocates and people trying to find a place to live in a city with expensive housing and an apartment shortage, that Castro Gem is emblematic of everything that's wrong with the so-called sharing economy."San Francisco is experiencing its biggest housing crisis probably since World War II," says longtime housing advocate and Airbnb critic Calvin Welch. "There is a phenomenon of an extraordinary increase in the cost of housing."Airbnb is just one of dozens of companies to describe itself as part of the sharing economy -- the idea of using the Internet to create person-to-person, or peer-to-peer, marketplaces that empower everyday people. The enabler -- companies like Airbnb -- gets a cut of each transaction it facilitates. While some sharing economy platforms promote in-kind trades among members, others, like Airbnb, tend to exchange services for money. Other well-known companies in this genre include car-sharing services Uber and Lyft.On the surface, "sharing" may sound groovy -- hey, it's San Francisco, after all. But this new economy is creating social dislocation and tension that's near a boiling point. And, despite the kumbaya-like pronouncements of companies touting sharing services, there's one mega-force driving them: cash.
"San Francisco is experiencing its biggest housing crisis probably since World War II."
Housing advocate Calvin Welch

What is the sharing economy, anyway?arrivingnowsanfrancisco.pngPeople can hail Uber cars with a smartphone app.
The sharing economy has its roots in an altruistic movement. The underlying theme is that if people pool resources, goods, and services, the world will become a more cooperative and waste-free place. Tech platforms are key to the sharing economy because they let people reach out and share with anyone -- making the planet smaller and more interconnected. It's a bit like socialism with a tech twist."We should be looking forward and asking ourselves, 'What kind of future do we want to create?'" Airbnb co-founder and chief technology officer Nathan Blecharczyk said at a tech conference in New York in May.Companies within the sharing economy span the gamut. Some platforms let people swap bicycles, cameras, tools, and musical instruments. Others, like Airbnb and VRBO, let people sublet their rooms or entire homes when they're not around. If you adored this information and you would certainly like to obtain even more facts pertaining to Liquor License Advisor is a local liquor license broker with a proprietary 5-Step approach for buying or selling liquor licenses and liquor stores for the highest profit in the shortest time possible with least resistance. kindly go to the web-page. Car-sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, let people use their own cars to give strangers a ride -- acting as impromptu taxis.The sharing economy gives "the ability to unlock human capital and potential," says Milicent Johnson, director of Partnerships and Community Building at sharing-economy advocate organization "People have a ton of options they never had before, like getting around the city or getting children's clothing. We are just getting started and are beginning to see that potential."
"We are just getting started and are beginning to see that potential."
Milicent Johnson,

While promotes itself as a "member-driven organization that supports the sharing economy movement," it's been criticized as being Airbnb's mouthpiece for faux grassroots campaigns.'s co-founder and foundation board member Douglas Atkin is Airbnb's head of community. The vast majority of Peers' 80 listed partners are for-profit companies, including Airbnb, Lyft, and TaskRabbit. Only a handful are nonprofits.Johnson wouldn't clarify the organization's affiliation to Airbnb. "Our partnerships are about helping spread the word about Peers," she said. An Airbnb spokeswoman added, "Airbnb and Peers are independent groups, but we often work together to highlight the benefits the sharing economy brings to cities." And those benefits, say Airbnb proponents, include the boost that short-term rentals bring to San Francisco residents and tourists. Not only do they help "home sharers" make ends meet or pay off their mortgages, they also bring more visitors who might not be able to afford the city's high-cost hotels. The average daily rate for a San Francisco hotel room is about $230 a night, according to an August study by hotel research firm STR Global. On most given days on Airbnb, hundreds of one-bedroom San Francisco apartments with a private bath can be found for less than $100 a night.