In an essay titled Shall We House The Homeless in Vacation Rentals?, a resident of San Francisco has suggested that the city's vacation rental companies might be a great resource in the fight to reduce the number of homeless on streets of San Francisco — if only for a few nights here and there — if companies like Airbnb and VRBO were forced to partner with the city to temporarily house the homeless in unoccupied vacation rental units.
The tongue-in-check essay (the author links to the Wikipedia page of A Modest Proposal) goes so far as to suggest we vote on a proposition to mandate this type of sharing, and helpfully suggests we call it "Proposition L" — "for liability."
"If people are excited about the idea, perhaps we could propose a ballot measure: 'vacation rental services operating in San Francisco must donate their empty stock each night, to be made available to San Francisco’s Homeless Outreach Team,'" muses the essay.
The author of the piece, famed blogging pioneer Justin Hall, highlights the obvious contradiction of a city with a homeless population that has remained steady over the past six years even while our economy has boomed and the number of vacation rental units is ever expanding.
"Disappearing housing stock for vacation rentals ranks as a hot topic in San Francisco, alongside increasing numbers of unhoused city residents," he writes. "We appear surrounded by the evicted and the struggling here. [...] Social problems are made up of individuals; caring for other humans is a handful -- ideally a helping handful."
Housing the homeless in empty units is not itself a new idea — the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project has written about it with regard to the estimated 30,000 number of unoccupied units in San Francisco — but the idea of mandating such action through a proposition on the ballot is indeed new.
Hall knows that such a proposition would never get off the ground, but his essay asks us to consider the fairly obvious reasons why that may be.
"I wouldn’t likely support this if I was renting out my home, but I get a little bit excited thinking about a wider range of options for how we might allocate and share space," writes Hall. "What if renting a home online for extra money means you have a random chance of housing or showering a homeless person now and then? Let’s talk about it."
When reached for comment, Airbnb provided SFist with a prepared statement from Rae Richman, the Head of Global Citizenship at Airbnb.
"We love working with our hosts on programs to support the community. Over the last year we have worked with hosts on providing housing for vets, for people displaced by natural disasters, for families traveling for medical reasons and first-generation college students visiting potential campuses -- all through our Open Homes program. We are always interested in finding ways to continue growing the program."
Maybe San Francisco's Homeless Outreach Team should reach out to Airbnb after all...