Airbnb are well known for their innovative approach to finding tourist accommodation. But in an innovative partnership with Boulder County Department of Housing, they are stepping up to the plate to help affected households find emergency accommodation.
In a first-of-its-kind agreement in Colorado, Boulder County is partnering with Airbnb to help provide housing during disasters like the floods and wildfire that have ravaged the county in recent years.
The cooperation between the county and the short-term rental website marks a reprieve from the typical strife seen between short-term rental websites like Airbnb and VRBO and municipalities like the city of Boulder that adopt strict regulation on short-term rentals.
The agreement with the Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services has Airbnb identifying hosts who will open their rentals for free to residents displaced by disaster as well as workers rallying in response to the disaster.
“Three years ago, our community was hit hard by historic and devastating flooding,” said department director Frank Alexander in a statement. “The lack of short-term housing for those displaced from their homes was one of the biggest challenges our neighbors faced in the days and weeks that followed. This collaboration with Airbnb helps provide a grassroots way for community members to help each other during a disaster.”
Airbnb said 1,400 of its hosts in New York City opened doors and provided meals to residents stranded by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. That inspired the company to build a disaster response program that has grown to a dozen cities, including Victoria, Australia, Auckland, New Zealand, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco.
“This agreement with Boulder County is an exciting next step forward in this commitment,” said Kellie Bentz, head of Airbnb’s global disaster response and relief program, in a statement. “Opening doors to people who need a place to stay is in the DNA of the Airbnb community.”
The Airbnb emergency response program got its first test in Boulder County as the Cold Springs Fire forced more than 2,000 to evacuate their homes around Nederland.
The program alerted more than 1,500 Airbnb hosts in the area that neighbors needed emergency housing at no cost. The alert went out a few days after the wildfire began forcing people from their homes and just as the county and Airbnb finalized the partnership.
By then most people running from the wildfire had already secured housing, said Jim Williams with the Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services. About 17 hosts responded and offered their homes for free, Williams said, but they had no takers.
“Our hope is that we can at least let people know this is an option for them if they want to help in times of disaster,” Williams said.
From the 2010 Fourmile Fire to the 2013 floods to the Cold Springs Fire, Boulder County residents have united to help their neighbors during disasters and in the recovery periods afterwards.
“This unique partnership with Airbnb will provide a tangible way for people to help us respond to and recover from future emergencies, building a more connected and resilient Boulder County,” Boulder Office of Emergency Management director Mike Chard said in a statement.