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Living under a tarp next to Facebook HQ: ‘I don’t want people to see me’

The sprawling Silicon Valley campus has cafes, bike repair services, even dry cleaning. But across the road a homeless community epitomizes the wealth gap

In a patch of scrubland across the road from the Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley, a woman named Celma Aguilar recently walked along some overgrown train tracks. She stopped where a path forked into some vegetation, just a few hundred yardsfrom the tourists taking photos by an enormous image of a Like icon at the campus entrance.

Welcome to the mansion, Aguilar said, gesturing to a rudimentary shelter of tarps hidden in the undergrowth.

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The campsite is one of about 10 that dot the boggy terrain, and are a striking sight alongsidethe brightly painted, low-slung buildings housing the multi-billion-dollar corporation. The contrast epitomizes the Bay Area wealth gap.

Harold Schapelhouman, a fire chief whose department has dealt with conflagrations on the land, said he was struck by the disparities. Their employees are very well taken care of. They have on-site medical facilities, dry cleaning, bicycle repair, they feed them and there are restaurants that are there. Its amazing what Facebook does for its employees. And yet within eyeshot it really isnt that far there are people literally living in the bushes.

Schapelhouman said he was not blaming Facebook, though it is true that the success of technology companies has driven up real estate prices in the area. As a whole, California is one of the lowest-ranking US states for the availability of affordable housing, and has one-fifth of Americas homeless population. Irrespective of the utopianism that imbues Silicon Valley culture, the tech campuses are not immune to these broader social problems.

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An aerial view of the Facebook campus on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. The land that the homeless encampments are on lies across the main road. Photograph: Noah Berger / Reuters/Reuters

Aguilar, 44, said she was aware of the Facebook HQ, though she wasnt quite sure what happened there as it always seemed so quiet. Can I get a job there? So I can get out from here.

The land where the encampments are located belongs largely to the state and private owners, and it takes 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other. Aguilar pointed out a pond, covered with scum, at which she said she sometimes washed. One campsite spills out from a huge clump of marshy greenery. Another is reached via a railway sleeper slung across a strip of water where a number of bike frames are submerged.

Salvadorian by birth, Aguilar said she once worked in nursing homes and at Burger King, and had four children. She said she had been homeless for about three years as a result of a crystal meth addiction, and thought she suffered from mental illness. Can you see how the trees move? she said as she sat on the rusted train tracks. I like to think theyre talking to me.

Friend requests and instant messages presumably zing back and forth on the other side of the street christened Hacker Way, but Aguilar said she had lost her Facebook password. No matter what I do they dont want to give it back to me.

A man named Rafael Barajas Ortiz, living in a lean-to amid mud and trash, said that, like Aguilar, he had no phone. Another resident opened the door of his shelter, which was blocked off by fencing made of woven branches, and said I dont use Facebook, before declining to be interviewed further.

Passing by on his bike, a local named Jesus said he did log on to the site, but he faced a problem familiar to many homeless people: he had nowhere to charge his phone. (He showed the Guardian his profile. The public pictures offered no hint he was on the streets.)

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A homeless encampment near Facebook headquarters. Photograph: Alastair Gee for the Guardian

Although it is not widely known, phone ownership and even social media usage are relatively common among homeless people, even if not those living next to Facebook. One Bay Area survey of around 250 homeless people found that 62% had phones. A study of homeless youth in Los Angeles indicated that more than three-quarters used social media.

Devices and service plans are readily available because the federal government offers subsidized cellular service to low-income Americans. It is known as the Obamaphone program both to its users and its rightwing critics, but in fact it originated as a landline subsidy during the Reagan era. The minimum standards specify 500 minutes per month of talk time or 500 megabytes of 3G data, and consumers can get a combination of them.

They use the phone for exactly the same reasons we use it, said Allan Baez, who launched a program that involved giving hundreds of free, Google-donated phones to homeless people. The cameras are particularly popular. They are individuals, they have kids, they have friends, they have good moments, and you take pictures.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the encampments, though he noted that the companys investments in local affordable housing include an $18.5m commitment announced late last year. Otherwise, the county provides an array of homeless services, and its homeless numbers have dipped a moderate amount, according to a 2015 count.

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The sign welcoming visitors to Facebooks campus. The company recently said it would invest $18.5m in local affordable housing. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Standing amid waving grass near a campsite, Gonzalo Apale, in a filthy jacket and work boots, described social media access as almost a marker of his progress in life. Ill try to get a telephone very soon, Ill use Facebook again, he said with optimism.

Still, he tries to avoid walking on the same side of the road as the Facebook campus because I dont want people to see me like this, he said. Because they are clean and everything.

Towards sunset, Aguilar took a path that spiraled up a small hill to a clearing littered with detritus.

Im going to make my house here, she explained, gesturing at a partially unfurled tent. The Facebook campus was visible through the tops of the bushes. Preferably, she said, it would not be.

The trees will grow and no one will see me.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/31/facebook-campus-homeless-tent-city-menlo-park-california


Get outta town: startup offers workers $10,000 if they ‘delocate’ from Silicon Valley

Offer from Zapier comes as high-paid tech workers in Bay Area have complained about the cost of living in a region that suffers from a major housing shortage

A Silicon Valley startup is paying employees $10,000 to leave Silicon Valley.

Zapier, an automation company founded in 2011, has announced that it is offering new recruits a hefty de-location package if theyre willing to move away from the Bay Area, an unusual perk that offers yet another sign of the worsening housing crisis in northern California.

Zapier, where all employees work remotely, recently announced that if current Bay Area residents were interested in improving their familys standard of living by relocating, the firm would provide $10,000 in moving reimbursements. Since CEO Wade Foster posted about the package last week, the uptick in applicants has been dramatic, he said in an interview.

A lot of folks just have a difficult time making the Bay Area a long-term home, he said, noting that the firm heard from roughly 150 job applicants over the weekend, including 50 who specifically mentioned the de-location offer. Housing is really challenging.

The offer from Zapier comes as high-paid tech workers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley have increasingly complained about the high cost of living in a region that suffers from a major housing shortage. Tech workers earning between $100,000 and $700,000 recently spoke to the Guardian about their real estate struggles, and one study suggested that for some engineers, more than 50% of their salary goes to rent.

By many measures, San Francisco has the priciest real estate in the country.

The housing crisis has had devastating impacts on low-income neighborhoods, particularly communities of color, as the growth of companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter have helped spur mass evictions, homelessness and displacement.

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Wade Foster, Zapiers CEO: A lot of folks just have a difficult time making the Bay Area a long-term home. Photograph: Zapier

But middle-class and wealthier tech workers have also spoken up about their difficulties buying homes and raising families near their jobs, leading to articles about the next Silicon Valley emerging in regions across the US, including Texas, the Pacific northwest and the Midwest.

Foster said he wanted to take advantage of tech workers desire to leave the Bay Area by offering a competitive package to those on the fence about staying in the region.

The Bay Area is a great place to live. Its fun to be here, said Foster, 30, who lives with his wife in Sunnyvale, a city located near the Facebook and Google campuses. At the end of the day, if you cant make the money side of it work, folks seem to be looking elsewhere.

Foster said he got the idea after two recent hires decided to move out of the Bay Area to Florida and Pennsylvania to be closer to their families. Weve basically just flipped relocation assistance on its head.

The $10,000 offer from Zapier a platform that connects apps to automate tasks and now employs 85 people bucks a number of trends in Silicon Valley hiring.

Facebook faced criticisms for accelerating gentrification and worsening the housing crunch when it offered employees $10,000 to leave near its Menlo Park campus. In 2013, Yahoo made headlines when it banned employees from working at home, arguing that communication in an office setting was critical.

Foster said he has long embraced remote working and that more startups should consider the model given how many talented workers want to move away from the epicenter of the industry.

Weve seen the technology advance to a state where people can legitimately work anywhere in the world, he said, noting that his staff is global, with clusters of employees in Austin, Portland and the Bay Area.

Foster said he enjoys living in Silicon Valley, but he doesnt know how long hell stay either. As we start to think about a family ourselves, its a decision were weighing.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/22/zapier-pay-employees-move-silicon-valley-startup


Berkeley’s liberal image in question amid homeless crisis: ‘The soul of our city is at stake’

Recent deaths challenge citys identity as a bastion of humanitarian values and injects urgency into debate on how to address homelessness as rents are soaring

One morning in mid-January, after days of intense rain, Tom White trudged to the back of an empty, muddy lot he owns across from Berkeley high school. He noticed a mound against the fence, next to some old tarps.

At first I thought it was another pile of garbage someone had dumped, White said. Then he looked closer. I realized thats human hair, thats a human shape. I just stood there and noticed there were no signs of life.

Outside in America

A woman, clad in layers of sweaters, was soaked and doubled over in a squat. She held an empty bottle. White called 911 and the body of the woman, later identified as 55-year-old Laura Jadwin, was taken away by the coroner. She was one of at least four homeless people to die in the past few months on the streets of Berkeley, California.

The deaths, in the middle of one of the coldest, wettest winters in years, have challenged Berkeleys idea of itself as a bastion of progressive and humanitarian values. They have also injected fresh urgency into a bitter debate over how to address homelessness when rents are soaring and affordable housing is vanishing.

Literally the soul and the character of our city is at stake, said Jesse Arreguin, Berkeleys recently elected mayor. Homelessness, he said, is a humanitarian crisis and its increasing every week. We have to address this issue more effectively.

For years, Berkeley has been known to locals by one of two nicknames: the Peoples Republic of Berkeley, birthplace of both the free speech movement and the Symbionese Liberation Army; and Berzerkeley, a time capsule of hippies and head shops. A festival named How Berkeley Can You Be?, now defunct, encapsulated the milieu: it brought together naked people, anti-circumcision activists and fire-breathers.

Yet today, Berkeleys values are clashing with unyielding economic realities. In recent years, its downtown has exploded with pricey restaurants and upscale apartment buildings catering to young technologists and researchers. Nearly 900 units are now under construction or approved.

Berkeley median rents have soared more than 40% in the past three years, to $3,483 a month, according to real estate firm Zillow. Meanwhile the homeless population has grown from 680 in 2009 to probably more than 1,000 today, according to the mayor. Strikingly, this is around 1% of the citys population.

There is a direct association between how fast rents are growing and how much homelessness there is in cities, said Svenja Gudell, Zillows chief economist.

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A memorial in Berkeley for 55-year-old Laura Jadwin. Photograph: Rob Waters for the Guardian

White, the man who found Jadwins body, said he has been discouraged by the nimbyish attitude of some of his fellow Berkeleyans.

They say, Why do we have to build more housing in Berkeley? They can go live somewhere else. But I dont think thats going to address the problem of homelessness. We cant build a wall and say, Go live in Nevada. Were going to have to have a community approach.

While nearly everyone in Berkeley agrees that housing costs are out of control, discussions on homelessness are among the most contentious to come before the city council.

In 2012, a measure to bar people from sitting or lying on downtown streets at night was placed on the ballot by political moderates then in control of the council, backed by business groups. The head of Berkeleys downtown association argued, approvingly, that the measure would shoo homeless people away from the citys main commercial districts.

But the so-called sit/lie measure outraged civil libertarians and progressives, who denounced it for scapegoating the vulnerable, criminalizing poverty and being out of step with the citys history. After a rancorous campaign, it lost by a slim margin.

Three years later, following complaints from residents about aggressive behavior and unsanitary conditions, the council passed new measures aimed at homeless residents that opponents quickly dubbed anti-poor laws. They restrict to 2 square feet the amount of sidewalk space that can be taken up by peoples belongings, bar public urination or defecation, and require people who keep their possessions in shopping carts to move them every hour.

In response, a band of homeless activists known as First They Came for the Homeless set up a protest camp dubbed Liberty City in front of Berkeleys old city hall. It grew to about 50 people before police evicted them after a two-week stay and arrested several campers. The group has since been ejected from several more sites.

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A band of homeless activists known as First They Came for the Homeless set up a protest camp. Photograph: Rob Waters for the Guardian

Mike Zint, a spokesman and organizer, said the encampments provide a way for homeless people to protest being treated as criminals because were poor. They also offer a dignified alternative to crowded shelters, where, Zint said, peoples possessions are stolen, they are exposed to infections, and they sleep poorly before being kicked out at 6 in the morning with all your gear.

Early this year, the group set up a new camp with about 20 tents on a grassy, city-owned parcel. So far it has been tolerated by authorities. The camp is a mix of newcomers such as Ariah Inlerah, 33, a transgender woman who fled anti-gay violence in Bloomington, Indiana, and longtime Berkeley residents such as Brett Schnaper, a 55-year-old former cook who has been homeless since he lost his rent-controlled, $1,100-a-month apartment early last year.

Here, I have a place to keep my gear and some reasonable hope it will still be there when I come back, he said, sitting in a canvas folding chair outside a tent.

To be fair, many Berkeleyans have great empathy for the citys homeless residents. In December, as the weather was worsening, Arreguin and a progressive majority took control of the city council and began pushing for change. The city set up an emergency operations center to coordinate crisis housing and opened a 47-bed winter shelter, for instance.

But a fight is likely looming: any proposal to provide more services is likely to provoke backlash from residents who argue they will draw more homeless people to the city.

Clearly we need fewer services, not more, said someone who wrote on Nextdoor, an online forum where residents post about neighborhood issues, under the name Eric Friedman. We need robust enforcement of our laws and criminal prosecution for violators. No camping. No crapping in public.

The contradictions inherent in liberal Berkeley are exemplified by Patrick Kennedy, a developer of luxury housing whose company donated $10,000 to support the sit/lie measure four years ago. Now he wants to build tiny studio apartments for the homeless modular units the size of shipping containers that can be stacked like Legos and sees no inconsistency in his stance.

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Brett Schnaper, center, and Mike Zint, right, at the First They Came for the Homeless encampment in Berkeley. Photograph: Rob Waters for the Guardian

Its a two-pronged approach, he said. I supported the ordinance because you cant have people camping out on your sidewalks and maintain the businesses and other social activities. But I also support the city actively doing something to address the problem.

However compassionate Berkeley tries to be, some obstacles are insurmountable. Take the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, which is dispatching staff members armed with tablet computers to talk to homeless people and assess their needs.

Since the beginning of last year, the agency has placed 54 homeless people into housing, said Sharon Hawkins Leyden, the groups director of client services. Yet only three have been able to stay in Berkeley, she said. The rest have been offered homes in Oakland, Stockton and even Sacramento, a city almost 80 miles away.

Berkeley rents, Hawkins said, are just too high.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/15/berkeley-california-homeless-identity-crisis


Foreign billionaires in London choosing to rent to avoid stamp duty

Number of lettings costing more than 3,000 a week increased by 28% in the last three months of 2016, research shows

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/12/foreign-billionaires-london-choosing-rent-avoid-stamp-duty


More than one-third of schoolchildren are homeless in shadow of Silicon Valley

Tech economy is drawing new inhabitants and businesses but is contributing to dislocation, leaving families, teachers and even principals with housing woes

Every night for the past year or so, Adriana and Omar Chavez have slept in an RV parked in East Palo Alto, a downtrodden community in Silicon Valley.

On a recent morning before sunrise, they emerged on to the empty street. Omar showed his phone to his wife: 7.07am. Shall I wake up the girls? he said, his breath visible in the freezing air.

He headed inside to rouse their three daughters, huddled together in the low-ceilinged bed just above the drivers cab, and ready them for school.

In most places, the Chavez family would be an exception. But in the school district that includes East Palo Alto, located amid the extraordinary wealth generated by the tech industry, their plight is not uncommon.

Remarkably, slightly more than one-third of students or 1,147 children are defined as homeless here, mostly sharing homes with other families because their parents cannot afford one of their own, and also living in RVs and shelters. The district is being squeezed from every side: teachers, administrative staff and even principals have housing woes of their own.

The circumstances of the crisis are striking. Little more than a strip of asphalt separates East Palo Alto from tony Palo Alto, with its startups, venture capitalists, Craftsman homes and Whole Foods.

You used to say youre on the wrong side of the tracks. Now youre on the wrong side of the freeway, said Gloria Hernandez-Goff, the hard-charging superintendent of Ravenswood City school district, which has eight schools and a preschool.

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The Chavez family lost their home after Omar was injured, which prevented him from working. Photograph: Alastair Gee for the Guardian

East Palo Alto has traditionally been a center for African American and Latino communities. Its suburban houses are clustered on flat land by the bay, sometimes with no sidewalks and few trees, but residents say the town boasts a strong sense of cohesion.

Yet as in the rest of Silicon Valley, the technology economy is drawing new inhabitants and businesses the Facebook headquarters is within Ravenswoods catchment area and contributing to dislocation as well as the tax base.

Now you have Caucasians moving back into the community, you have Facebookers and Googlers and Yahooers, said Pastor Paul Bains, a local leader. Thats whats driven the cost back up. Before, houses were rarely over $500,000. And now, can you find one under $750,000? You probably could, but its a rare find.

Hernandez-Goff, who worked as a community organizer and in schools in northern California before becoming superintendent three and a half years ago, gives tech firms some credit.

Facebook recently announced it had committed $18.5m for affordable housing in the area. Meanwhile, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by pediatrician Priscilla Chan and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, her husband, has funded programs in the Ravenswood district including literacy and leadership initiatives, Hernandez-Goff said, adding that she meets with Chan or her staff monthly.

For all that, Hernandez-Goff thinks the systemic problems housing shortages, wage stagnation, inequality are beyond her. Her focus is on the immediate needs of families.

She wants to open a school parking lot to cars and RVs at night, so families with children can sleep without being disturbed; she thinks lack of sleep and stress are contributing to her districts low test scores. And she would like to install washing machines in schools for those without homes.

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Gloria Hernandez-Goff thinks the systemic problems housing shortages, wage stagnation, inequality are beyond her. Photograph: Alastair Gee for the Guardian

The Chavez family lost their home after Omar was injured, which prevented him from working and then faced the areas exorbitant rent costs. Average one-bedroom rents in East Palo Alto are above $2,200, according to the city, and money is tight for the couple. Adriana earns only $11 an hour at a day care. Their tired-looking RV, with its $1,000 price tag, seemed the most logical option for them and their kids.

For them at the beginning, especially the youngest one, it was scary, Omar said.

With the dawn sun only a gleam on the horizon, he turned on a generator so his daughters could use the lights. Soon after, a very small child came to the doorway. Her jacket was zipped up and she held a blue hair clip. Ariel, six, had been watching Zootopia on the TV inside.

The RV has almost no free space. The main cabin has two beds one for the girls, and a second that converts into a table where the children do their homework. Omar cooks in a tiny kitchen, but because the refrigerator is broken there is no way to store fresh food. Bags of clothing are heaped on the floor, and the windows are sealed with aluminum tape for warmth. Omar sleeps in a back room crowded with belongings.

The shower is here, but we turned it into a closet, said Luna, five, pointing at a door. Instead, the family washes at a YMCA. They try to use the RV toilet as little as possible because the tank fills quickly.

The couples third daughter, Lannette, 15, was still in bed under some blankets. She was sick with what she thought was an ear infection. Its difficult, she said of the living situation, but at least I have somewhere to sleep.

Several homeless families whose children attend local schools told the Guardian that they had considered moving to cheaper real estate markets, such as the agricultural Central Valley, but there were no jobs there.

One man shares a single room with three children, in a house where three other families each have a room. Another woman lives with her partner and five children in a converted garage.

Even teachers are not immune to such difficulties. Ten of the staff who work on early education programs one-third of the total commute two or more hours each way a day because they cannot find housing they can afford.

Amanda Kemp, 47, is the principal of an East Palo Alto school. Based on her income, she says she has no option but to share a home with three other educators. I was done with roommates in college, she said. Not once did I even think I would live with others unless it was a significant other.

Hernandez-Goff hopes to build apartments for staff on land owned by the school district. She speaks of her students and employees as an endangered species, on the verge of extinction.

Their predicament is not abstract to her. I love this place, she said. I wish I could buy a house here.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/dec/28/silicon-valley-homeless-east-palo-alto-california-schools


Facebook plans to invest $20m in affordable housing projects

The tech company, long criticized displacing low-income residents in Silicon Valley, will partner with advocacy groups to amid massive campus expansion

Facebook has agreed to invest $20m in affordable housing initiatives after facing intense criticism for failing to help low-income residents in Silicon Valley where the technology boom has exacerbated displacement and gentrification.

The corporation, which is pushing forward with a massive campus expansion in northern California, announced on Friday a partnership with community organizations aimed at funding affordable housing construction and assisting tenants facing eviction.

Housing activists who have long been critical of Facebook and its role in accelerating income inequality in the region said the investment marked an unprecedented collaboration between Silicon Valley corporations and advocacy groups and that the project could push neighboring tech companies to better address local poverty.

Im hoping this fund will be the thing that starts to move the rest of the region, said Tameeka Bennett, executive director of Youth United for Community Action (Yuca), a non-profit in east Palo Alto that helped negotiate the new agreement.

The housing shortage has reached crisis levels in Silicon Valley, which is also home to Google, Apple and many other wealthy technology firms. Rapid job creation combined with a lack of new housing has created an estimated shortfall of 22,000 homes, with the region building only 26% of the housing needed for low-income people, according to non-profit group Public Advocates.

That means only the wealthy can afford to live near their Silicon Valley jobs, forcing an estimated 70,000 low-income workers to commute more than 50 miles to work.

Facebook, headquartered in Menlo Park, has contributed to the problem in direct and indirect ways. The company sparked backlash after it began offering generous bonuses to employees if they live near campus, which advocates say has hastened gentrification. Local real estate managers have evicted low-income tenants en masse, explicitly marketing units to Facebook employees.

The funding announced this week is not simply a philanthropic donation from Facebook, which is valued at $350bn. The corporation is legally required to fund certain community benefits as part of its ongoing expansion project, and activists have spent months pressuring the company to make substantial investments.

Facebook plans to add 126,000 sq ft to its campus and bring 6,500 new employees to the area, increasing the Menlo Park workforce by 20%. Development laws mandated that the corporation contribute $6.3m to below-market-rate housing.

Still, non-profit leaders said the housing fund could have a significant impact and noted that Facebook executives have relied heavily on the input of local advocates with the kind of intensive collaboration advocates rarely see from corporations.

The community groups that have the expertise really were equal players, said Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, senior staff attorney at Public Advocates, which had raised formal objections to Facebooks expansion proposal.

I hope having one large prominent Silicon Valley company leading the way on this will be a wake-up call for all the other global corporations that the Bay Area is hosting and the need for them to work locally, he added, rather than just thinking of themselves as global corporations that exist online.

In addition to investing $18.5m toward the creation and preservation of affordable housing, the company has offered $500,000 toward legal and rental assistance to tenants threatened with displacement.

A Facebook spokesman told the Guardian that the company doesnt have projections on the number of housing units the partnership could fund, but noted that the $20m is an initial contribution and said the company hopes to attract additional public, private and philanthropic entities to contribute to the fund.

Kyra Brown, Yucas social justice program director, said it was critical that Facebook do a better job diversifying its workforce and hire locally in east Palo Alto, a historically black city. African American employees make up only 3% of the corporations senior leadership in the US.

Silicon Valley is known as this very innovative place when it comes to addressing everyday issues, she said, but my hope is that we also take that same innovation and apply it to social issues.

Brown, who grew up in east Palo Alto, said the announcement was an important first step in the tech sector helping to address inequities in the communities theyve entered.

Im glad that Facebook is thinking about the legacy it wants to leave particularly when it comes to communities of color, she said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/02/facebook-affordable-housing-silicon-valley


‘Learn English’: LA landlords allegedly harassed Latinos to get richer tenants

Exclusive: lawsuit paints disturbing picture of company that targeted Latinos, low-income tenants and those with mental disabilities in illegal eviction scheme

The Latino families all got the same threat posted on their doors: if their children played in the apartments hallways, they would be evicted. When the Spanish-speaking parents asked the Los Angeles property managers for help reading the notices, they were told: Learn English.

According to a federal discrimination lawsuit filed Thursday against a major California real estate investment firm, when four mothers inquired about the notices, management threatened to call immigration, social services and the police.

I was in shock, said Carmen Castro, one of the mothers. That really created a fear in us.

The complaint against Optimus Properties paints a disturbing picture of a company that has targeted and harassed Latino residents, low-income tenants and renters with mental disabilities as part of an illegal eviction scheme to replace them with wealthier, younger people.

Civil rights advocates said the suit, filed on behalf of 15 tenants and advocacy group Strategic Alliance for a Just Economy, provides a window into the tactics of profit-driven real estate investors who are aggressively purchasing and flipping older buildings, accelerating gentrification, displacement and income inequality in cities across the US.

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Hilda Deras, 76, has received baseless eviction notices and faced harassment from her landlords, according to the federal lawsuit. Photograph: Joshua Busch

The allegations come at a time of increased anxiety for Latino families and immigrants tied to the surprise victory of Donald Trump. The president-elect has called Mexicans rapists, has threatened to deport millions and in the 1970s was accused of discriminating against African Americans at his real estate properties.

The lawsuit, filed by the not-for-profit groups Public Counsel and Public Advocates, covers five buildings with a total of 150 units in Koreatown, a gentrifying neighborhood that has historically been affordable to working-class people, with a high concentration of Asian American and Latino families.

The complaint alleged that Jerome Mickelson, Optimus director of construction and multifamily asset manager, along with a number of his affiliated real estate companies, have systematically targeted tenants protected by rent control.

For this population, new landlords are barred from raising rents beyond small annual increases and cannot evict them if they continue to pay rent, but the laws havent stopped Mickelson, according to the complaint.

In an email to the Guardian, Mickelson strongly denied the allegations. We take these allegations very seriously and categorically deny each and every such allegation, he said. He added that the lawsuit was filed without proper analysis and investigation and that the companies look forward to working with the Plaintiff to educate them about the real facts and if need be, to exonerate ourselves at trial.

Residents are treated with respect at all stages of their tenancy, he added.

However, according to the complaint, property managers in the buildings allegedly filed a series of illegal eviction notices and have created a hostile and threatening environment for tenants.

The landlords in one building allegedly told tenants that the new managers dont want to rent to people with mental disabilities, that they should move, and that they belong in group homes, the suit said.

Landlords have additionally told Latino tenants that their food smells disgusting and foul and that the tenants need to learn to read English since they are in America, according to court records.

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Tenants targeted for eviction have struggled to get management to address infestations of rodents, roaches and bedbugs, broken heaters and bathtubs, plumbing problems, leaks, peeling drywall, mold and other maintenance problems, according to the complaint. Photograph: Joshua Busch

Utilizing a practice that activists say is common for real estate investors who flip buildings, Optimus has also allegedly allowed for uninhabitable living conditions in the apartments with rent control while providing freshly renovated units in good and sanitary condition to new tenants who are English-speaking.

Tenants targeted for eviction have struggled to get management to address infestations of rodents, roaches and bedbugs, broken heaters and bathtubs, plumbing problems, leaks, peeling drywall, mold and other maintenance problems, according to the complaint.

Optimus has advertised a Koreatown strategy in its marketing materials, explicitly stating that it is focused on value creation by investing in old buildings and renovating units as they become vacant.

Deepika Sharma, attorney with Public Counsel, said these kinds of campaigns against tenants are not unique.

It is wide-scale, she said, adding that tenants fears of racial discrimination have escalated since Trumps victory. Even before this election, our clients experienced this racism that threatened their ability to live in their homes.

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Arthur Rivera, a 67-year-old tenant with a disability, has received numerous unlawful eviction notices, the lawsuit alleged. Photograph: Joshua Busch

Demetrius Allen, a 45-year-old African American tenant who has a mental disability, was chronically homeless before he moved in to the Koreatown building in 2012. He has received more than a dozen eviction notices since Optimus purchased the property all of which were illegal, according to the complaint.

Im completely overwhelmed, he said. Every day of the week its always something.

An on-site manager allegedly told Allen that the landlords planned to rid the building of persons with mental disabilities, the suit said.

When he first moved in, he said, It was a sanctuary. But he said the nonstop threats from management and the fear that he may be homeless again have taken a severe toll on his mental health.

Its really destroyed my peace of mind. Youre always angry or paranoid. You never know whats going to happen next.

Castro, 31, whose sons are ages five and 11, said that she doesnt know how her family could find another affordable place if her landlord successfully pushes her out. We would end up homeless, out on the streets.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/18/latino-evictions-california-housing-discrimination


Vancouver hopes to cool off housing market with a tax on empty homes

City approves 1% tax on homes that are not principal residences and are empty for more than six months a year, which data suggests could number 20,000

Vancouver has become the first city in Canada to approve a tax on empty homes, as officials in the city scramble to address the spinoff effects of an overheated housing market that ranks as one of the worlds least affordable.

On Wednesday, Vancouver city council voted to move forward with a 1% tax on homes that are not principal residences and which are left empty for more than six months a year.

The tax is aimed at bolstering the citys meagre supply of rental stock. Vancouvers rental vacancy rate currently stands at 0.6% resulting in some of the highest rents in the country while city data suggests that more than 10,800 homes are sitting empty and another 10,000 are left vacant for long periods of time.

Vancouver is in a rental-housing crisis, Gregor Robertson, the mayor of Vancouver, said earlier this month as he unveiled details of the tax. The city wont sit on the sidelines while over 20,000 empty and under-occupied properties hold back homes from renters struggling to find an affordable and secure place to live.

An increase of 2,000 rental properties would raise the rental vacancy rate almost sixfold to 3.5%, according to estimates by the city.

The tax which will come into effect at the start of 2017 will be based on the assessed value of the property, meaning the owner of a C$500,000 ($370,000) condo left vacant would pay an additional C$5,000 a year in taxes. Exceptions include properties that are undergoing renovations, condos or townhouses that have restrictions on rentals, and homes whose owners are in medical or supportive care.

The tax will rely on homeowners to declare their vacant properties, with random audits by the city to ensure compliance. Those caught skirting the tax will be steeply penalised: from a 5% penalty for those who are late in paying the tax to fines of C$10,000 a day for false declarations.

In the lead-up to the vote, the city held two open houses and heard from more than 10,000 residents, including those who voiced concerns that the tax unfairly targets those who have second homes that they or their family use on a regular basis. Elizabeth Ball, one of the few councillors who voted against the tax, called it a cruel, cruel tax on good citizens who arent rich.

Robertson responded by pointing to the many who will be exempt from the tax and the appeal process created for residents who feel theyre being wrongfully taxed. The fact is these are second or third homes so its difficult to see how hardship applies if you own multiple homes in Vancouver, said the mayor. The motion proposing the tax was approved by eight votes to three.

Recent months have seen a slew of measures aimed at cooling metro Vancouvers red-hot property market, where low interest rates and demand from foreign investors many of them from China have seen housing prices grow by 249% since 2005.

In August the provincial government imposed a 15% tax on foreign buyers, while in October the federal government tightened the rules for mortgage insurance eligibility and moved to close a tax loophole believed to be used by some speculators.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/17/vancouver-empty-homes-tax


Oakland’s ‘mega-evictor’, the landlord who filed over 3,000 eviction notices

Pro-tenant group says a landlord who has a seat on Oaklands housing cabinet is also the top evictor in the city, where a housing crunch has reached crisis levels

Leketha Williams was out of options. When the Oakland, California, mother was evicted and became homeless in May of 2010, she had just enough money to book a hotel for her and her two sons, then aged seven and 12.

In the following weeks, she worked to get her children to school on time each morning before carrying all of their belongings from one temporary home to the next, often forced to make dinners for the family out of hotel microwaves.

Williams had fallen behind on rent during a difficult financial period and had begged her landlords for mercy, writing in one handwritten letter: Please let us stay for at least a week because my boys do not have anywhere to go Do it for the sake of my boys.

But records show the sheriff ultimatelyforced her to surrender her apartment.

It was horrible, Williams, 47, recalled in a recent interview. I was very shocked They didnt give us no time.

Its possible that Williamss story could have turned out differently had she not lived in a building managed by William Rosetti. A review of public records by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, a pro-tenant group, suggests that the Bay Area real estate executive, through his expansive portfolio of property companies and investments, is Oaklands number one mega-evictor.

The organizations research and an analysis by the Guardian reveal that in Oakland, Rosetti and his business firms have filed more than 3,000 eviction notices, which are the first step in removing a tenant. The data, along with accounts from evicted tenants, paint a picture of painful displacement and rising income inequality in Oakland, a city that is rapidly gentrifying amid the tech boom of nearby San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

These evictions and the rent increases are part of an ecosystem thats leading to a massive demographic shift of who can live in Oakland, said Erin McElroy, co-founder of the mapping project and co-author of a new report on displacement in the region.

Evictions arent the only way Rosetti may be having an impact on Oakland. The researchers were particularly shocked to discover that the apparent top evictor has a seat on Mayor Libby Schaafs housing cabinet, a body dedicated to promoting equity and affordable housing in an increasingly unaffordable city.

I watched the gentrification

Williamss story is a familiar one in the Bay Area, where black residents have been displaced at alarming rates. By many measures, the housing crunch has reached crisis levels in Oakland, which has been deeply burdened by the migration out of San Francisco, the city across the bay known to have the priciest real estate in the country.

Leketha
Leketha Williams said the eviction trapped her in a cycle of financial hardship. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

I actually watched the gentrification, said Mario Benton, 51, who lived in one of Rosettis buildings for more than 15 years and said there werent many black residents left when he moved out a few years ago.

Oakland now has one of the fastest-rising rents in the US and the countrys fourth most expensive rental market, with a median rent of $2,280 a month for a one-bedroom.

As some of the worlds largest technology corporations continue to prosper in Silicon Valley, making the region unaffordable to many and leading to mass evictions, activists have grown increasingly worried about the negative effect of tech in Oakland, where Uber is planning a major office development.

While Oakland rents have nearly doubled from 2011, the median income of residents has increased by only 11%, leading some to suggest that it has the worst affordability crisis of any major US city.

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, which studies Bay Area displacement, collected data from the local rent board and found that landlords have filed about 50,000 eviction notices since 2008 (though the city failed to provide data for 2009 and 2010).

The statistics largely refer to three-day notices to pay or quit, the first step in an eviction when a tenant misses a payment, and the cases generally cover buildings protected by rent control, meaning older properties where landlords are limited in how they can raise the rent.

The group also uncovered that dozens of the obscure limited liability corporations (LLCs) listed on the documents traced back to thousands of Rosettis units, with properties scattered across the city. The Guardian was able to confirm that more than 3,000 notices included in the rent board database were tied to his companies.

Rosetti told the Guardian that he has been in the business for 40 years and that his companies currently have a total of roughly 1,200 units, mostly in Oakland.

Oakland evictions

On one of his websites, he touts his work in San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s, saying he was at the forefront of the condominium conversion business, a process that removes rentals from the housing stock and can lead to large-scale displacement of tenants.

For some Oakland renters evicted by Rosetti, the consequences were devastating.

It does something to you mentally

Terry Braggs said that when he lost a restaurant job in 2011, the management at his Rosetti building refused to negotiate with him.

I remember saying, Im really good for it, I just need a little bit more time. I lost my job, the 33-year-old chef said in an interview.

But his landlords moved forward with an eviction, andBraggs said he had to leave Oakland and move back in with his parents 30 miles away from the Bay Area restaurant scene where he was trying to build his career.

Terry
Terry Braggs said he had to leave Oakland and move back in with his parents in a suburb 30 miles away when he was evicted. Photograph: Courtesy of Terry Braggs

It was overall stress and a little bit of depression, he said. Being evicted and forced to leave a place where you live, it does something to you mentally.

Braggs said it also has been an ongoing battle to secure housing now that he has an eviction on his record. Owners see that and its like youve got a disease It is an extremely hard process to get back on your feet.

Sascha Illyvich, a Rosetti tenant who faced two eviction lawsuits for missed rent payments, said he felt targeted since he and his girlfriend at the time frequently spoke up about maintenance issues and other problems. During the second case, he said they decided to leave. They were trying to do anything to get us out They didnt like the fact that we complained and knew our rights.

Williams, the mother who became homeless in 2010, said the eviction trapped her in a cycle of financial hardship. Paying nightly fees for hotels, she couldnt save enough money for a deposit on a new apartment, and the many challenges of homelessness made it impossible for her to have a steady job.

We had to start all over again, she said.

Todd Rothbard, Rosettis attorney who handled the three cases, said management was patient with those tenants, gave them opportunities to pay owed rent and granted their requests for additional time before they were forced to move out.

In Williamss case, Rosetti claimed the mother was given multiple warnings and had missed several rent payments, though court filings show she was only behind by one month when his company moved to evict her.

Its difficult to know how many of Rosettis eviction cases end in displacement. The mapping project also analyzed court records and found that over the past 10 years, Rosetti has been associated with hundreds of eviction lawsuits (the next step after filing a notice).

Many of the thousands of rent board notices from Rosetti may not have resulted in formal eviction cases in court. But activists note that in general there are numerous ways in which tenants are pushed out without lawsuits.

Some may leave when they get a notice in an effort to avoid having an eviction on their record, some may not know their rights, and some may face harassment from managers, advocates said.

Pretty much industry standard

Rosetti and his lawyer strongly disputed allegations that he is a major evictor, arguing that the three-day notices are standard filings when tenants fall behind, and that his companies work with tenants to help them stay. Indeed, the Guardian interviewed several of his tenants who were given second chances after missing a payment.

Leketha
Leketha Williams: We had to start all over again. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

We dont evict unless its somebody who is absolutely egregious, Rosetti said, adding in a later email. An eviction is a major tragedy in anyones life and when a resident loses the ability to earn or provide sufficient money for shelter it is a societal failure.

Presented with specific documentation on the number of notices, Rosetti said he could not comment on the veracity of the data.

He also claimed that he gives tenants many chances to pay debts, which is why he might have a high number of individual notices, and further noted that he filed a much higher rate of eviction lawsuits during the foreclosure crisis 10 years ago. This year, he said, he has had fewer than 20 cases.

Rothbard argued that the eviction numbers are simply a result of Rosettis large volume of units and claimed that many of the buildings have marginal tenants who struggle to keep up.

Its pretty much industry standard, he said. The fact that hes had to serve that many notices shows you the quality of tenants hes dealing with.

Mayor Schaaf said in an interview that Rosetti has not influenced any specific policies while on her housing cabinet and said it was useful to have executives such as him involved in a group that brings together developers and housing activists.

He is certainly the type of person we would want to influence, she said. If he is in fact the largest evictor he is exactly the kind of person you want in the room.

Finding ways to stem the tide of displacement is her top priority, Schaaf added. Im concerned with the total number of evictions, period It is horrific and it is damaging to this community.

Rosetti argued that the solution to Oaklands housing crisis was to build more housing and raise the wages of low-income and middle-class people.

Housing is the number one crisis in Oakland, he said.What we all need to do is work together to create more affordable housing for everybody.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/31/oakland-eviction-notices-affordable-housing-crisis-rent-bay-area


Airbnb faces worldwide opposition. It plans a movement to rise up in its defence

The room-rental website, now worth $30bn, faces a critical year as city authorities clamp down

In the back room of a pub in Kentish Town, a group of middle-class Londoners are perched on velvet-covered stools, eating hummus and talking about property. On the wall, above a pile of empty beer kegs, a slide presentation is in progress. A video of Airbnbs recent advert shows smiling hosts opening their front doors and declaring their support for Sadiq Khans post-Brexit London is open campaign.

The audience of Airbnb hosts are there after receiving individual invitations from the company to a home sharers meet-up a concept largely unfamiliar to the slightly bemused crowd. Jonathan, an enthusiastic Californian Airbnb employee, who was recently seconded to London to set up the clubs, is happy to explain: Homesharing clubs are simply a way of organising this into something that has a unified voice then actually takes actions as a collective, he says, in a less than clear answer.

More simply, homesharing clubs are advocacy groups made up of Airbnb hosts loose, informal lobbying groups that push the companys agenda to politicians. The clubs are part of a what is fast becoming a concerted fightback by Airbnb, the website founded in 2008 when three college friends rented out air mattresses in their San Francisco flat as a way of making money, to become one of the biggest online travel brands in the world.

But its phenomenal growth is proving to be its greatest liability. Authorities in cities around the world fear the impact it is having on their communities and are now seeking to arrest Airbnbs near unfettered expansion.

The latest in a series of attempts around the world to curb its growth came earlier this month when New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will fine tenants or landlords who let out unoccupied flatsfor less than 30 days.

Meanwhile, in Dublin, the owners of one flat have recently been prohibited from using it as an Airbnb let without planning permission, raising the prospect of copycat actions elsewhere.

In Berlin, people who let more than half of their flat short-term without obtaining permission from the city council now risk a fine of 100,000. And in London, a 90-day rule was introduced last year under which no property can be rented out on Airbnb, or any similar service, for more than three months a year without planning permission.

So how is Airbnb responding? In New York the company has filed a lawsuit in the US federal court. But at a wider level the company is now supporting efforts to prevent these types of actions from taking place in the first place. And the best way to do this, Airbnb thinks, is to get its millions of hosts to rise up on its behalf.

Last year the company announced plans for 2016 to create homesharing clubs in 100 cities around the world. The aim, it said, was to form a powerful people-to-people based political advocacy bloc.

The bulk of the clubs are in North America, with a couple in Australia, South America and Asia, and an increasing number in Europe. In Britain, however, the number of clubs is negligible, even though there are more than 40,000 listings on Airbnb. The company is concentrating its efforts on building this UK base. Meetings, such as the one at the Abbey Tavern in Kentish Town, have been happening all over London as Airbnb seeks to build a grassroots campaign to fight the threat of greater regulation and more restrictive policies.

The hosts at the Kentish Town meeting are told that, earlier this year in Berlin, Airbnb dropped the ball after the citys ruling on short-term lets the suggestion being that it did not want this to happen again elsewhere. As a result of that ruling, the Berlin Home Sharers Club was created and started lobbying to try to change what it saw to be an unfair policy. In London, the 90-day rule may itself not be onerous compared to other cities, but there are growing calls for further regulations .

Airbnbs Jonathan steers clear of telling the group that they should lobby for change. On the one hand, would Airbnb like to see homesharing groups set up all over Europe? Absolutely, he says. Would it share in their interests? Absolutely. But whether those sharing clubs decide that their only interest is to share electricians and plumbers or to take political action is completely up to them, he says.

The next slide focuses on Barcelona, a city where, in 2014, Airbnb was fined 30,000 for breaching tourism laws. Later, another slide listing write to your MP as a suggested activity is shown. Writing letters to local newspapers and selected officials is obviously something that we would want to see concerned hosts do, but only if it applies to them and if theyre motivated to do so, Jonathan says.

Chris Lehane, Airbnbs head of global policy and communications, said the clubs act as a voice against the powerful.

These folks absolutely should have the capacity to go out there and represent themselves, and weve been clear that we want to provide that support and provide some of the infrastructure, he said. This can be an incredibly effective advocacy tool. I think weve been pretty transparent and open about that.

The networks of host groups, which in effect lobby on behalf of the company, are an illustration of how far Airbnb has grown since its inception in 2007. Back then, founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia could not afford the rent on their San Francisco flat and so put three airbeds on the floor and charged $80 a piece for their first guests.

Even by the rapid standards of growth in the tech industry, the company has expanded very quickly. It is now valued at $30bn, and claims two million property listings in 191 countries. That valuation puts the worth of the Californian firm at more than Hilton Hotels.

Wouter Geerts, an analyst for Euromonitor International, says this rapid growth has led to the corporatisation of Airbnb, with more listings from other hospitality companies and people with multiple properties. That might be hotels or estate agents, serviced apartment providers. They all look at Airbnb and think actually what is stopping us putting these properties on Airbnb as well and making extra money?. And of course there are more and more stories about landlords that push out long-term tenants because they can make more money through Airbnb, he said.

One of the most frequent criticisms of Airbnb has come from the hospitality industry, which has complained of the differences in regulation that hoteliers have to operate under, compared to Airbnb. But the organisation that acts as the voice of this industry in the UK says it is not just about them. Many councils in London have expressed their concerns recently, says Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association. Much of that is because the sharing economy and in particular we are talking about the unlawful professional landlords, the pseudo-landlords operating illegally has put a huge strain on rental prices.

Increasing levels of hostility to Airbnb have also started to come from the neighbours of those who let their homes through the website. Last month a property court in London ruled that homeowners whose leases say that their homes can be used only as a private residence cannot rent out their properties as short-term lets. The case came after the neighbours of Slovakian interior designer Iveta Nemcova informed the freeholder of the building that she was listing her flat in north London on Airbnb. As a result, Airbnb hosts have been warned that they could be in breach of the terms of their mortgages and building insurance policies.

One homeowner who spoke to the Observer said that the ground-floor flat in her building had been rented out on Airbnb by a tenant without the knowledge of the owner. As a result, the house insurance of the whole building was potentially invalidated.

In London, Westminster City Council is investigating 1,200 properties alleged to be let in excess of the 90-night limit. Enforcement notices have so far only been issued against two. In practical terms it is a real challenge for us to gather evidence to prove that individuals are letting properties for over 90 nights, a council spokesman said.

The scrutiny that Airbnb faces from both users and policymakers around the world comes after the sites runaway growth. John ONeill, director of the Centre for Hospitality Real Estate Strategy at Pennsylvania State University, estimates that the number of hosts has doubled in the last year with revenue up 60%. With that growth has come an ecosystem of support companies, typically property management firms that submit the advert for the property onto the website and then may manage guests arriving and leaving, dropping off and collecting keys, for example.

The exact effects of this growth on the hotel industry are unclear. The British Hospitality Association said it would be unfair to say there had been an impact on the demand for its members services as a result of Airbnb and instead the association focuses its criticism on the effect on housing. Airbnb says that its growth has been a reflection of how people live, and describes the attacks from the hotel industry as disappointing but not surprising, rejecting claims that it has a negative effect on the housing market.

Homesharing puts money into the pockets of regular people and spreads guests and benefits to more communities and businesses, the company said in a statement. Countless cities around the world have introduced clear home-sharing rules, and we will continue to be good partners to policymakers and work together on progressive measures to promote responsible homesharing. The vast majority of hosts follow the rules, it said.

Where the Airbnb debate goes next, after such a period of rapid growth, is unclear. Some hotel companies, instead of continuing to fight Airbnb, have chosen to join it. The larger hotel chains are moving away from trying to combat Airbnb. Initially there were some kneejerk reactions of we have to lobby against this, we dont exactly know whats happening, they are not regulated well. Most of the companies have moved on from that now and they have started to realise certain potentials that it brings, said Geerts. There is this movement of looking at short-term rentals not as a negative, but more as a positive, and seeing the changing demands of consumers.

This was illustrated in April when French hotels group Accor, said to be Europes largest hotelier by room numbers, paid 118m to acquire Onefinestay, which offers short-term lets on expensive homes.

ONeill estimates that there are 70 lobbyists working for Airbnb in the US, trying to get favourable legislation passed to benefit the company. Most hoteliers I speak with have accepted Airbnbs existence and growth. Their concerns have more to do with levelling the playing field between hotels and Airbnb operators, because Airbnb has so many unfair competitive advantages relative to hotels, he said.

Others have said that regulators need to be fair in how they set out the rules that Airbnb and other similar companies must adhere to. Robert Vaughan, an economist with accountancy firm PwC, said there was a huge variation in those affected from someone renting out their sofa, to landlords with multiple properties and there is a difficulty in applying the same rules to all of them.

ONeill says that while Airbnb may continue to grow, it will not have the free rein it had previously. I dont think there will be a free-for-all of unregulated growth as there has been in the past, he said.

Back at the meeting in Kentish Town, the night ends with a positive response to the homesharing clubs idea. We need to write a letter, suggests one host. We should meet every three months, suggests another. As the meeting draws to a close, nearly everyone agrees on the need for a club. Jonathan jumps in again: I do want to stress that there are other sorts of flavours to home-sharing clubs, he says, launching into a description of a collective bedsheet-washing initiative, but few are listening. As the meeting ends, the group are asked to put their hands up if they want a local club. Nearly every hand goes up.

The Observer reporter who attended the Kentish Town meeting is an Airbnb host

Growing concern around the world

BARCELONA

Authorities in the Catalan capital recently stepped up their campaign against homes illegally rented out to tourists using homesharing websites. Hundreds of listings were ordered to be removed, and Airbnb and another online rental firm, Homeaway, faced fines of 60,000 each.

Homeowners who want to rent out properties to tourists must apply for a licence, and a team of 20 inspectors has been set up to find those who do not adhere to the rules. The citys mayor, Ada Colau, who took office in 2015, stopped the granting of new tourist licences for homes and hotels. She has blamed the rise in Airbnb popularity for growing tensions between residents and rowdy tourists.

The number of people using Airbnb in Barcelona tripled to 900,000 in the three years to 2015.

REYKJAVIK

The 1,600 short-term property lets in Icelands capital have to operate under strict rules introduced in June. The legislation allows residents to let their property for 90 days a year before they must pay business tax. The move comes as Icelands population of 332,000 is set to welcome 1.6 million visitors this year a 29% increase on last year drawn by the glaciers, fjords, lava fields, hot springs, hiking trails and midnight sun.

The move is one of a series aimed at controlling the rapid rise in visitor numbers, including Game of Thrones fans travelling to the filming locations of the television drama. One report estimated there was a 124% increase in Airbnb rentals in one year as residents cashed in on the popularity of the country, with more than 100 flats available on the capitals main street alone.

MOSCOW

Airbnb said last year that the Russian capital was one of its fastest-growing markets, fuelled by high inflation and low incomes. Activity doubled in one year, driven by an increase of single rooms in apartments, which were being listed for short-terms lets in an attempt by many homeowners to make ends meet, given the countrys economic problems.

The growing interest in Moscow on Airbnb brought it into the top 10 most popular cities by bookings on the website at a time when there was no sign of legislative regulation to restrict use of the service. The sharp increase came at the same time as falling wages, which were down 8.8% in the first half of last year. The average price of a private room for a night in the city is 27, and 45 for an entire home, according to the site.

LISBON

The city has bucked the trend of some of its European neighbours, and instead worked to make it easier for short-term rentals to operate. Hosts are required to register their properties as short-term rentals but there is no limit on the number of nights per year that they can operate.

Mayor Fernando Medina has said people should not be scared of the new tourism dynamic and wants the city to be able to take in more tourists, in turn reducing the number of empty buildings in Lisbon. Tourism is seen as an important part of Portugals economic recovery. Airbnb listings in the greater Lisbon area have almost tripled in the past three years.

SAN FRANCISCO

Although the city is home to Airbnbs HQ, it also operates strict rules for hosts, who have to register with authorities. If Airbnb advertises an unregistered property it can be fined $1,000 a day for each listing. One action group has posted wanted flyers. The crime? Airbnbing our community and destroying affordable housing for immigrant, minority, and low-income families. Resident groups have campaigned against Airbnb and there have been reports of tenants being evicted so landlords can list on the site. Last year Airbnb successfully campaigned against Proposition F, or the Airbnb initiative, planned legislation that would have reduced the number of days owners can rent their properties. Airbnbs victory was helped by its grassroots homesharing club, which voted in large numbers against the law.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/29/airbnb-backlash-customers-fight-back-london


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