Airbnb abandons new "campaign" headquarters after owner revealed to be slum landlord

Even unicorns can trip over their own horns sometimes.

By Dan Raile , written on August 6, 2015

From The Sharing Economy Desk

Throughout this spring and summer, in my coverage of Airbnb’s lobbying efforts at San Francisco’s City Hall, it never occurred to me to doubt that the company, a formidable mutant unicorn by any standard, would field anything but a slick and professional squad of astroturf engineers.

This has led me to the assumption that all resistance was futile, and that Airbnb would succeed in getting exactly what it wanted from the city’s elected officials, the public interest be damned. Which is pretty much how it’s played out so far. Only one domino remains in that endeavor: the voter initiative due to appear this November on the ballot, which would impose some constraints on the company’s business in the ol’ 7x7.

Airbnb has already primed its PR machine and mobilized its allies for full-on assault on the measure. But yesterday something happened that offers a glimmer of hope for supporters of the measure, a signal that perhaps Airbnb is not too rich to fail after all. This event suggests that even amid the corridors of power connecting Silicon Valley to City Hall (with the blessing of the White House), sheer stupidity can manifest itself and maybe, just maybe, throw a wrench in the works.

I submit for your consideration:

This week it was revealed that San Francisco for Everyone, the campaign committee Airbnb set up to fight the ballot measure, planned to lease a building at the corner of 20th and Mission streets to host its headquarters.

The building in question, a recently vacated T-Mobile storefront at street-level, presented Airbnb’s opponents with a gift on a silver platter. The owner of the building turned out to be one of the “sleazy 16” landlords who throughout this year’s regulatory battles have been cited as the sort of “bad actors” that need to be weeded out of the Airbnb renter pool. The space just above the planned headquarters is none other than 20Mission, the much-maligned ‘hacker hostel’ that was illegally converted from an SRO into 41 micro-apartments for “art and technology creators in the heart of the mission.”

As first reported in local blog Capp Street Crap, San Francisco for Everyone yesterday backed away from their plan and tried to save face:

“SF for Everyone has zero tolerance for unscrupulous landlords. We made a mistake in not doing the due diligence on the background of this property and immediately took action when we became aware of the history. We are not using this campaign office,” said a spokesperson.

The supporters of the ballot measure were quick to fire into the breach. Dale Carlson, co-founder of Share Better SF, the campaign committee supporting the initiative, wrote to me this afternoon:

”Today, the company the company was shamed to abandoning its plans. Why can’t Airbnb take the same approach to the hundreds of bad actors illegally renting multiple SF residential units to tourists and toss them overboard, too?”

It’s still too early to predict the result of the November vote, but the sheer momentum of Airbnb’s successes and powerful alliances haven’t provided much in the way of hope for its opponents. But then Goliath goes and steps on his own foot. Even unicorns can make mistakes.