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Airbnb launches ad campaign to woo Los Angeles

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Ads emphasize that Airbnb is all about home "sharing”

Airbnb is turning on the charm in Los Angeles, where it might soon face tough regulations. In a new ad campaign set to air today on radio and TV, LA-area hosts of various ages and races talk about "sharing" their homes with strangers to help pay their rent or mortgage:

"Living on a fixed income would be very difficult. Airbnb helps me ... Without that income I wouldn't have survived. Without that income now I wouldn't be able to stay in my home that I've been in since I was 12-years-old. I'm bringing dollars to South Central LA, to my neighborhood," says host Vanessa in one of the ads.

"People who home-share, when they get into it, they really get into it. It becomes part of their lifestyle," says host Julio, of North Hollywood.

Anyone unaware of the controversy swirling around Airbnb might be left thinking of it as a business that's only doing a lot of civic good. But critics say the short-term rental business is siphoning necessary rental units off the market.

Los Angeles desperately needs more housing. Its vacancy rate is just 2.7 percent according to a city planning report —the lowest among major metro areas in the nation. Critics say short-term rentals offer landlords the chance to make more money more quickly. In one case, Los Angeles prosecutors allege the landlord of a rent-controlled building in the Fairfax District evicted her tenants in order to list the units on Craigslist.

The new campaign launches as the city of Los Angeles prepares to crack down on short-term rentals. The proposed rules would only allow hosts to rent out space in their primary residence, and then, only for a maximum of 180 days a year. Rent-controlled units or designated affordable housing couldn't be rented out at all, in an attempt to stem the loss of affordable units to more lucrative short-term tenants. Hosts would also be required to pay the same transient occupancy taxes that hotels pay.

Airbnb spokeswoman Alison Schumer says scripts for the new ads were a collaboration between ad producers and the hosts themselves, who were chosen from the "vocal host community" in LA. Just last month, Airbnb formed a group to unite hosts who "share" their homes. (Airbnb is very careful to use the word "share." As The Atlantic has pointed out, it sounds a lot more altruistic than, "hosts who profit off their homes.") Airbnb says in a post on its blog that it is "all the more important for the home sharing community to share ideas that will help shape fair, sensible laws."