SAN JOSE — Learning from last year’s catastrophic Coyote Creek flood, city officials in partnership with Airbnb are building a new network to house displaced residents — before the next disaster strikes.

Starting in August, San Jose residents can sign up through Airbnb to offer space in their home, free of charge, to someone fleeing calamity. It’s a service Airbnb has offered for years — but always retroactively after disaster hits. The new tool marks the first time Airbnb is proactively building a database of volunteer disaster hosts.

The San Francisco-based home-sharing company planned to announce the new program Saturday at the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Boston. Airbnb hopes eventually to expand the program beyond San Jose.

“I was inspired by the thousands of residents who came out to help their neighbors after the flood to get back on their feet,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “With Airbnb’s help, we’re creating an easy tool for compassionate neighbors to have real impact.”

When the water rose in February 2017, forcing the evacuation of 14,000 people and causing $100 million in damage, San Jose officials scrambled to find homes for displaced residents. Airbnb activated its Open Homes feature, which sends messages to hosts on the platform inviting them to volunteer their homes to families in need. But such a last-minute effort, restricted only to current Airbnb users, wasn’t enough. And that left the bulk of the massive burden on the city.

“It doesn’t help that we are already in the grips of a housing crisis, so there are extremely low levels of vacancy and extremely high costs,” Liccardo said.

The proposed solution to that problem is the brainchild of Henry Tsai, a recent Harvard Business School graduate who is completing a one-year fellowship as a technology and innovation policy adviser with Liccardo’s office. Following the Coyote Creek flood, his parents’ home in Houston flooded during Hurricane Harvey that fall. The two disasters got him thinking about how Airbnb’s platform could be better used to house evacuees. Liccardo liked the idea and reached out to Airbnb, and Tsai, the mayor’s office and the tech company spent months working together on a plan to make the Open Homes platform more useful.

The change Tsai envisioned is a major update to the free housing program Airbnb has had in place since 2012, which has offered short-term lodging to evacuees in the Bay Area and beyond. Airbnb activated the …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News


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Airbnb to launch new disaster relief registry in San Jose

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