For years, home-sharing giant Airbnb has had a quiet side project involving asking its hosts to offer temporary housing—for free—to displaced people, citizens forced out of their homes due to natural disasters and other emergencies or, increasingly, the global refugee crisis. Today, the company is launching an ambitious new platform in order to unite and these efforts under a new umbrella and to make it easy—and scalable—for regular people to host people in need much in the same way they host paying Airbnb travelers.
Called Open Homes, the platform lets anyone sign up to host a person in need—offering all or part of their residence. A select group of nonprofits and relief worker agencies can then use it to search for temporary housing for those they are helping. The organizations are responsible for identifying and vetting the displaced, searching for and selecting the best housing options depending on preferences and needs, and making the bookings. In other words, it operates much like a regular Airbnb booking—only the price is set at zero, only agencies can do the bookings, and Airbnb does not collect fees.