Airbnb joins Pride as sponsor
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Airbnb, the Internet-based lodging sharing company whose name is often associated with San Francisco's eviction controversy, has joined the city's LGBT Pride parade and celebration as a major sponsor.
George Ridgely, executive director of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee, the group that organizes the event, said Airbnb has contributed $100,000.
So far, response from the LGBT community has been muted.
"Honestly, we haven't gotten much feedback here in the office, but when the announcement was made, there were a lot of people who were excited about it," said Ridgely.
One of this year's grand marshals has criticized the move, though.
"Airbnb is problematic," said longtime housing advocate and queer activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca. "I think the biggest problem with [Airbnb] is landlords are using it in order to make a lot of money. They're emptying a lot of apartments" and instead of renting to regular tenants, "they're renting by night or by week" and "taking apartments off the market" that are "desperately" needed.
"I understand that Pride needs money," said Avicolli Mecca, but "I think they need to restructure and find a way to not be dependent on all this corporate money."
He added, "With the housing crisis being what it is, I don't understand. I think it's a bad move" and "sends the wrong message."
Asked how much Airbnb could be faulted for the evictions, Avicolli Mecca said, "The company has to be living in a cave somewhere not to know what's going on in San Francisco."
Criticism of Pride sponsors has become routine over the years. The organization's teaming with alcohol and technology companies regularly draws at least some community protest, but heightened concern over evictions across the city make the Airbnb announcement stand out this year.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera in April filed two lawsuits against what his office called "short-term rental scofflaws" for illegally converting apartments into tourist lodging, which at least one of the property owners marketed through online platforms that included Airbnb.
Also in April, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced legislation that would require residents to register with the city's Department of Building Inspection for permission to rent short-term. It would also require companies like Airbnb to collect and remit hotel or transient occupancy taxes, among other provisions.
Chip Conley, Airbnb's head of global hospitality and strategy, wasn't immediately available for an interview, but in a statement to the Bay Area Reporter, he said he's participated in Pride "for many years, and I'm proud that Airbnb is sponsoring the work of this organization."
"The overwhelming majority of people who use Airbnb share the home in which they live so they can help pay their bills ... ," said Conley, who is gay. "The behavior of some predatory landlords who are abusing platforms like ours to illegally evict tenants in search of a quick buck is deplorable, and we want to work together to stop it from happening. San Francisco is where Airbnb got started and we look forward to working with local leaders and partners to make this community stronger for all of us." He didn't offer details of what actions Airbnb would take.
Ridgely defended the sponsorship, saying, "We were excited to have a locally funded corporation that embraces LGBT rights within San Francisco that was seeking out an opportunity to engage in the event and support the event" financially and by providing volunteers.
As for the city's housing problems and any role Airbnb may play in them, Ridgely said, "I don't feel like I have all the details. I'm certainly aware of the conversation, and I think that's part of why it was important for them" to participate in and support Pride.
"Pride needs a broad range of support" from community partners, volunteers, corporate sponsors, and others in order "to pull off an event of this size and scope" and to help keep entrance to the celebration free, he said.
Each year, the Pride festivities draw hundreds of thousands of people to San Francisco's streets. Donations from the celebration have helped Pride contribute nearly $2.3 million to nonprofits since 1997.
Pride board President Gary Virginia said, "It's really impressive to me that after 44 years there's still no required ticket price" for Pride. (Although entrance is free, a minimum donation of $5 is requested.)
Virginia also noted that donations at the gate have declined in recent years, and said, "If every person who came to the event over the two days last year would have donated $1, that would have generated $1.8 million."
Virginia said Airbnb "has LGBT employees" and "LGBT users on both ends," and he predicted "as legislation is created," the company will "be following it in each city."
"I think they actually are a model of community-based exchange," said Virginia, who added that he'd nominated Avicolli Mecca as a grand marshal "for many years" and he's "thrilled Tommi is going to have a platform this year" to talk about housing issues.
Airbnb isn't the first tech company to participate in Pride. Google has had a parade contingent for several years, and it's facing the ire of some people for its buses that take employees to work in Silicon Valley. Last year Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg marched in the parade.
Pride is projecting to raise more than $800,000 through sponsorships this year, said Ridgely, and "we've collected a little over half of that." The financial picture "is looking very good," he said.
The budget isn't expected to be finalized until June. The most recent budget was $1.7 million.
This year's festivities are June 28-29. Visit www.sfpride.org for more information.