SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — For the first time ever, a Bay Area city is linking up with Airbnb to provide shelter in the event of a disaster.
Nineteen months ago in San Jose, Coyote Creek spilled its banks into the Rock Springs neighborhood. The flooding left some 14,000 people homeless.
Homeowner Aidan O’Leary’s Airbnb listing was less than 10 minutes away from the chaos and tragedy of that fateful day. With the floods happening in real time, an email came in from the corporate office that practically read her mind.
“They sent out kind of a call to action. And I saw it and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s perfect!’” said O’Leary. “I was already trying to figure out what I can do to help, and it just appeared in front of me.”
In response to Coyote Creek flooding and to prepare for future disasters, the City of San Jose is asking other neighbors to step up and be their best. The city on Thursday announced a partnership with Airbnb where hosts take in evacuees during a disaster for free.
The program, called the Host Corps project, is a follow-up to the Open Homes program which began in the wake of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast in 2012. Airbnb has since offered accommodation to 15,000 emergency evacuees in 50 countries, according to Kim Rubey, Airbnb’s Head of Social Impact and Philanthropy.
Mayor Sam Liccardo says in the aftermath of a flood, wildfire, storm or earthquake, government can only do so much.
“All the traditional institutions and systems are overwhelmed. And what often saves the life in time of peril, is that one volunteer who stepped up,” said Liccardo.
O’Leary was one of the first to volunteer. She opened up her Rose Garden luxury studio to two men whose homes were flooded out.
The two evacuees stayed for a little more than a week. Normally $100 a night, it meant O’Leary gave up nearly $1,000 in potential income.
“Yeah, but they need it much more than I do,” said O’Leary.
Rubey said the company is making a big push to work with San Jose to recruit hosts, and says all of their verification services and guarantees will be provided free of charge.
“It’s a total no-brainer for us,” said Rubey. “We want to be a good partner to cities, and this is one of the best ways we can probably help.”
Liccardo said the access to room space via Airbnb allows the city to be much more “nimble” during a disaster, as opposed to local hotels or motels that have a fixed capacity or fill up quickly.
“I’m grateful to be working with Airbnb as we go together to keep San Jose safe,” Liccardo said.
In the end, O’Leary says it’s not just about helping your neighbor.
“The satisfaction of buying material possessions is fleeting. It doesn’t stay with you,” said O’Leary. “But, when you connect with people in your community, you keep those connections, and you build relationships and you just have no idea how much they will touch various parts of your life, until you have them.”