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Airbnb Rentals Turn Into Shelters in Harvey’s Wake

By JOHN L. DORMAN

The six-bedroom home in an affluent neighborhood of New Orleans has everything a vacationer would want in a rental: tasteful décor with old-world touches like a clawfoot tub, a saltwater pool and a deck that would tempt even an inexperienced griller to try to char a nice dry-aged rib-eye. It goes for $750 a night this time of year on Airbnb.

But the property, a couple of hours away from flood-soaked Lafayette, La., is now available at a steep discount: it’s marked down 100 percent.

Nearly 1,100 homes and rooms are being offered for free to evacuees of Hurricane Harvey through vacation rental sites, making the hosts unlikely operators of mini-shelters at a time when tens of thousands are displaced in Texas and Louisiana.

The bulk of the free listings — about 1,000 — are on Airbnb. And in a sign that the site, which started out as a freewheeling peer-to-peer exchange, has grown up, the city of Houston is relying on it to find emergency medical workers a free place to stay as well.

 

Airbnb’s listings are not a spontaneous effort. The vacation rental and hospitality company first created a disaster relief plan to allow people renting properties to offer free lodging for evacuees after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This time around, hosts in Houston, Galveston, Corpus Christi, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lake Charles, and Lafayette can offer free stays to hurricane evacuees through the site through Sept. 25. Because the site does not manage the properties it lists, it can only ask its hosts to offer free lodging.

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