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A coalition of local groups is waging a PR war with home-sharing company Airbnb, raising affordable housing concerns in support of proposed D.C. Council legislation to regulate short-term rentals.
The “ShareBetter” campaign is launching its first local TV ads today designed to flag abuses of home-sharing platforms, which, the coalition argues, take off the market housing that could otherwise be used for long-term leases. The TV spots and concurrent digital ads on social media represent a six-figure effort to convince the public that Airbnb and its peers should be reigned in.
“Anyone who lives here knows how hard it is to find affordable housing,” the TV ad says. “Airbnb is making it even harder—turning thousands of housing units into pricey tourist rentals when D.C. residents face a severe housing shortage in our neighborhoods.” The ads are scheduled for major networks, including CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, and News Channel 8, during prime-watching hours.
The ads follow the introduction of a bill by Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie that would create a regulatory framework for short-term rentals in D.C. and establish limits on the length and number of bookings available via home-sharing platforms. McDuffie has said the bill doesn’t “ban legitimate home-sharing”—residents looking to make a little extra money—but attempts to target commercial operators who use buildings as unlicensed hotels. Organizations like the Working Families Party and D.C. Jobs With Justice support the legislation.
ShareBetter’s ads come on the heels of radio ads Airbnb started running last week that criticize McDuffie’s bill. In them, an Airbnb host who lives in Anacostia says the bill would “take away money that I make off of Airbnb,” adding, “Airbnb should have rules, but they should be reasonable and fair.” McDuffie took issue with these ads during an appearance on WAMU Tuesday, calling them “horribly misleading.” “[They are] essentially trying to characterize my efforts as trying to hurt working people east of the river,” the councilmember said.
The competing ads are the latest in a battle that has been brewing locally since at least last year. In September, Airbnb ran TV ads touting the platform’s benefits for D.C. hosts, and over the past several months it has issued a series of reports and press releases doing the same. Most recently, for example, Airbnb claimed that it had produced $14.5 million in tax revenue for the District to date.
With McDuffie currently the only sponsor of his bill, both sides are lobbying for their interests in the Wilson Building. Reacting to the new ads, Airbnb says in a statement that “ShareBetter is a front group for the big hotels and is waging a malicious campaign against D.C. families who depend on home sharing to make ends meet. … The proposed legislation would punish small businesses and middle-class families.” ShareBetter and its allies counter-argue that the legislation would actually help middle-class families by generating money for D.C.’s affordable housing fund through fines.
“We are fighting back to save affordable housing—through organizing and legislation—because commercial operators on Airbnb aren’t going to police themselves,” says Valerie Ervin, a senior advisor for the Working Families Party. Airbnb has said the data do not show its listings are having a deleterious effect on the District’s supply of affordable housing, and McDuffie’s bill is too broad.
The D.C. Council has not scheduled the legislation for a hearing yet.