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Airbnb expands call for hosts to house evacuees, relief workers

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Airbnb, the nation’s largest vacation rental home marketing business, said Thursday it has 230 host homes mostly in northern Florida offering free stays to Hurricane Irma evacuees and relief workers and now is activating its disaster relief program through more of Florida.

Airbnb also is seeking new hosts in Central Florida, South Florida, North Florida, Gainesville, and Tampa Bay for Florida, and in Puerto Rico, to help evacuees and relief workers in the Caribbean.

The company is encouraging its hosts — individual homeowners who list their vacant rooms or properties for nightly rentals through Airbnb — to join its disaster response program. Under that, both the hosts and Airbnb waive their fees to make rooms available for refugees and relief workers. The company activated the program last week, but initially only targeted hosts in the Florida Panhandle.

Kelli Bentz, Airbnb global director for disaster relief, said infrastructure problems — mainly power, internet service and phone service — are hampering efforts to reach hosts and encourage them to participate, but as services are restored this week they expect that to change and the numbers of participating host homes to go up significantly.

Irma left a swath of downed power lines and impacted internet and phone service statewide.

“We have a team working around the clock just trying to reach them,” Bentz said in a press call Thursday.

Airbnb’s disaster relief program has been in place for years. In Texas, more than 900 Airbnb hosts participated, offering more than 1,000 individual properties for evacuees and relief workers for Hurricane Harvey. But the situations are as different as the storms. In Texas, for example, Airbnb had no problem arranging for hosts in San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas right away, and none of those cities was significantly impacted.

That effort is ongoing, through Sept. 25.

Florida’s relief effort is currently set to run through Sept. 27.

Airbnb has more than 36,000 participating hosts in Florida, but each one sets his or her own schedule, sometimes offering a room only one or a few nights a year, while others are available full time. The Florida inventory of available rooms changes constantly, she said.

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Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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