An effort by home-rental platform Airbnb to offer temporary housing to those fleeing disaster has gained a new urgency with the arrival of war in Ukraine, just weeks after the tech giant  announced it had reached a six-month goal of housing 20,000 Afghan refugees, including 1,000 in Georgia.

Through its Airbnb.org platform, the Silicon Valley company said it plans to enable hosts to offer free short-term housing to more than 100,000 people fleeing  their homes in Ukraine amid a Russian onslaught that threatens to grow even more grim as the invading forces near the capital, Kyiv.

Airbnb did not say whether the home stays would be limited to any geographic markets. The United Nations has estimated that some 670,000 Ukrainians have been displaced already in the week since Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched his invasion. Many have fled eastward to countries like Poland, which relaxed all visa restrictions on Ukrainians entering the country. Ireland and other European Union nations have followed suit, Most of the refugees thus far have fled on land rather than by air to neighboring countries like Moldova, Romania and Poland.

One of Airbnb’s Georgia-born founders, Joe Gebbia, described during a homecoming in Atlanta last year how the platform’s ability to be used for good at the one pivotal point for refugees — just after these “new neighbors” land in a new country but before they’re offered a semi-permanent housing — was energizing him in a new way about its potential to connect people across borders while growing livelihoods. Airbnb snared a $47 billion market capitalization when it went public in late December 2020, and its stock remains elevated beyond that initial closing.

The Airbnb.org initiative, which Mr. Gebbia chairs, had already committed to housing another 20,000 refugees, from Afghans and Africans to Central Americans, before the Ukrainian crisis heated up. It works by letting hosts list their properties for free or at reduced rates, allowing refugee resettlement agencies to book them for inbound families or aid workers heading into a new post. Non-hosts who want to help can join Airbnb’s founders in offering cash donations to the Airbnb.org Refugee Fund, which is used to offset to the costs to hosts of housing families. The bookings are not open to the general public. Airbnb provides $1 million in insurance and waives all service fees.

Over the last five years, Airbnb hosts have housed more than 54,000 refugees and asylum seekers, with more than 7,100 hosts opening their homes to “newcomers” they’d never met, many of them free of charge.

Airbnb.org partners include the International Rescue Committee, which has an active Atlanta office, as well as Church World Service (CWS) and HIAS, among many others.

Learn more about the Ukraine initiative here, or visit www.airbnb.org.

Read this Global Atlanta story to learn how the Atlanta-born Mr. Gebbia gleaned the idea for unleashing the power of Airbnb for good from a host during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York.


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