With Central Texas battling torrential rains — and the accompanying catastrophic flooding — online rental marketplace Airbnb announced it is activating its evacuee housing program in 52 of Texas' 254 counties.
Earlier this week, the Llano River northwest of Austin reached peak levels, destroying one bridge and causing massive flood damage to homes in Texas Hill Country towns like Marble Falls and Kingsland, and neighborhoods around Lake Travis. At least one person has died due to the flooding, according to the Austin-American Statesman.
As Lake Travis continues to rise to historic levels, the Lower Colorado River Authority is considering opening additional floodgates to help ease the pressure. Such a move could potentially threaten additional properties on lakes Austin and Travis, as well as Lady Bird Lake, which runs through the heart of downtown. As a precaution, the City of Austin has already banned all watercraft traffic on the lake and closed Barton Springs Pool.
In order to help aid evacuees and rescue and aid workers, Airbnb is running its free housing program now through November 8, according to a release. To begin, the company is asking hosts to volunteer their homes on the site. As of press time, more than 100 local Airbnb properties have been made available to flood victims at no cost.
To find a property, evacuees and relief workers can go onto Airbnb's Central Texas flooding homepage and search for available housing. Likewise, those local hosts looking to make their homes available to victims and helpers can do so by going here.
Considering Austin is Austin, the question must be asked: How do hosts know if it's a victim or aid worker rather than, say, someone in town for Formula 1? An Airbnb rep says the company tries to get ahead of this by encouraging hosts to communicate directly with their prospective renters, ask questions, and manage expectations. Like any Airbnb transaction, all the same protections for both hosts and tenants apply.
Currently, the evacuee housing program area stretches from Waco through Austin and south to San Antonio, and covers the following 52 counties: Atascosa, Bandera, Bastrop, Bell, Bexar, Blanco, Bosque, Brown, Burnet, Caldwell, Coke, Coleman, Comal, Comanche, Concho, Coryell, Dimmit, Edwards, Erath, Frio, Gillespie, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Hamilton, Hays, Karnes, Kendall, Kerr, Kimbie, Kinney, La Salle, Lampasas, Llano, Mason, McCulloch, McLennan, McMullen, Medina, Menard, Mills, Real, Runnels, San Saba, Schleicher, Sutton, Tom Green, Travis, Uvalde, Val Verde, Williamson, Wilson, and Zavalia.
The Airbnb evacuee housing program began in 2012 in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a superstorm that battered the East Coast, killing 159 people and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses. Since then, the program has been activated more than 250 times around the world in response to natural disasters.