Airbnb.com, the well-known aggregator of room and apartment rentals, is joining forces with NYC.gov and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to provide free housing for displaced Hurricane Sandy victims. This comes after the company waived fees for these customers last week, and it continues to urge hosts in the area to offer their pad gratis or at least lower their prices, as 100,000+ people are still without lodging or electricity. So far, more than 300 hosts have offered to share their homes with people in need.
It’s a start, and hopefully more will follow suit. Airbnb says there are over 20,000 listings in storm-affected areas, including New York City, the Hamptons, Providence, New Haven and Atlantic City. And since the storm trashed the region, last-minute bookings swelled to over 2,500 — 900 just in NYC itself, with a third coming from local residents.
Interestingly, the effort comes on the heels of a kerfluffle between the city and Airbnb. Hotels and regulators were up in arms about the service, since individuals generally rent out their spaces without the pile of taxes and fees levied on it, like traditional accommodations. That makes it an extremely affordable and competitive option, especially with its local catalog of available listings ballooning up to 15,000+ choices. And although it’s legal to rent out a room in a shared residence in New York, that doesn’t cover whole home rentals, of which there are many in the city.
The startup recently hired away Yahoo’s deputy general counsel and vice president of global public policy to help tackle the issue, but this latest relief initiative could be its most effective move yet to ease the sticky situation and gain support from both officials and the public.
The jaded among us might wonder if the company is using tragic circumstances to gain an advantage, but what’s certain is that it doesn’t matter to the people who are being helped by this effort. I’m sure they’re just grateful for an easy way of connecting with these generous hosts.