Airbnb hosts are opening their doors to people displaced by the Puerto Rico earthquakes

Author: Kristen Rogers and Brian Ries, CNN
Puerto Rico earthquakes (Lorenzo Delgado/CNN)

Puerto Rico was devastated by a series of earthquakes this month that left thousands of people displaced from their homes and needing a place to stay.

In response, Airbnb is offering refuge to evacuees through its Open Homes program — an online service for displaced people and relief workers to find free temporary housing until January 31.

The company is encouraging people who are safe to offer space to those who evacuated, or to relief workers helping with recovery efforts, by listing their available rooms or housing for no charge on the site.

In the last two weeks, Puerto Rico has been ravaged by temblors, including a 5.9 magnitude quake near Indios, a 6.4 magnitude quake in Guayanilla, and a 5.2 magnitude aftershock on the southern coast — leaving almost 300,000 people without power, water, or housing.

People in need can complete a form at the top of the service’s website, then search the listings. They need an Airbnb account, which requires a name, date of birth, phone number, and email address.

The host will need details about a visitor’s stay and possible arrival time. Hosts may ask more detailed questions.

Once Airbnb activates the response tool for an affected area, it notifies existing hosts and asks whether they have space. When hosts decide to participate, their homes appear on the list for those within the affected area.

Those who want to volunteer need to provide a spare room or flat, a comfortable bed, basic amenities and toiletries, and the option for people to stay two or more consecutive days. All booking fees are waived.

More than 100 Airbnb hosts in Puerto Rico have signed up.

“Airbnb hosts in Puerto Rico have a history of sharing their generosity in times of need,” Kim Rubey, Airbnb’s director of social impact, said.

Through Open Homes, Airbnb organizes emergency housing. The idea came from Airbnb hosts in 2012, after Hurricane Sandy hit New York and hosts decided to open their homes.

Since then, Open Homes has helped more than 40,000 people affected by disasters, conflict, or illness.

“The program gives anyone with extra space the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in their neighbors’ lives,” Rubey said. “For guests, having a safe place to stay is a critical element to healing and recovering in the aftermath of a disaster.”

No official system is in place to ensure that people booking housing are, in fact, disaster victims. Rubey said that guests “must confirm that they’ve been impacted by the disaster or are a relief worker responding in an official capacity,” and hosts can “ask questions, agree on logistics and set expectations about the stay before accepting a booking.”

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