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San Jose kicks off Airbnb disaster housing program

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San Jose will be the inaugural city to partner with Airbnb for the “Host Corps” project, offering free housing through local hosts during disasters and emergencies.

The partnership, announced at a news conference Thursday morning, was developed in response to the Coyote Creek floods of February 2017 that forced 11,000 people to evacuate and submerged several mobile homes in the South San Jose neighborhoods of Rock Springs, William Street and Oakland Road.

Aidan O’Leary, a San Jose resident and host who opened up the lower level of her house for evacuees during the floods, said quickly available shelters near an emergency zone can be crucial to people who immediately need to go back to work or take children to school.

O’Leary compared the free shelter to donating food or money:

“I think we need to do all we can to build resilience in our community.”

Open Homes, the predecessor to Host Corps, began in the wake of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast in 2012, and Airbnb has since offered accommodation to 15,000 emergency evacuees in 50 countries, according to Kim Ruby, the company’s head of social impact.

Although Airbnb has typically invited hosts to sign up for the program on their website, the pilot partnership with San Jose will bring continual recruiting throughout the year to ensure there are shelters available when a disaster strikes.

Mayor Sam 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.

Liccardo said:

“I’m grateful to be working with Airbnb as we go together to keep San Jose safe.”

Stressing the importance of disaster preparedness, he also advocated for Measure T on the city’s Nov. 6 ballot.

The $650,000 bond measure funded by property taxes would upgrade 911 systems, repair emergency infrastructure like bridges and prevent water quality contamination during floods.

Liccardo and the City Council voted unanimously to place the measure on the ballot. It will require approval from two-thirds of voters to pass.

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