It’s a name Nebraskans probably associate more with vacation getaways or places College World Series travelers rent for a few days.
But Airbnb.org, an independently run nonprofit related to Airbnb lodging service, has become a player in the Afghan resettlement process — providing free temporary housing to some 1,100 refugees recently relocated to the Husker state.
Spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco said that so far Airbnb.org has provided, on average, a couple of weeks of emergency housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees nationwide. Of those, 930 were relocated to Omaha, which DeBold Fusco described as the 5th top destination for Airbnb refugee stays.
“We asked our community to open their homes or donate to meet this critical need,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in a statement. “Due to the generosity of our hosts and donors to Airbnb.org, and the dedication of our nonprofit partners helping to drive this important work, we’ve been able to surpass our original goal.”
Set six months ago, that goal was to provide short-term housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees. The effort was launched as the crisis escalated in Afghanistan, but it is rooted in a 2012 program that helped people displaced from Hurricane Sandy and since then has been reactivated during times of emergency.
Shortage of affordable housing
Omaha and Lincoln were Nebraska’s main recipients of the Airbnb.org outreach, DeBold Fusco told the Nebraska Examiner. According to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, 1,210 Afghan refugees have been settled in the state over the last several months, meaning that the bulk were at first placed in Airbnb homes.
DeBold Fusco declined to provide financial details, other than to say the stays were fully funded by Airbnb.com, Airbnb founders and donors to the Refugee Fund. Some hosts volunteered their homes without seeking compensation, or offered them at a discount.
I can’t imagine how we would have been able to settle the amount of refugees we did in that amount of time without that leeway. – Drew Pauly, Refugee Empowerment Center
The Refugee Empowerment Center of Omaha is one of the local agencies and nonprofits that help resettle newcomers. Drew Pauly, community engagement and volunteer coordinator, said that in almost all recent cases involving about 415 Afghan refugees, his team initially tapped Airbnb lodging for the new arrivals.
The team finds a fitting Airbnb listing, families stay for up to a month, and Airbnb.org reimburses the local agency.
“I can’t imagine how we would have been able to settle the amount of refugees we did in that amount of time without that leeway,” said Pauly, adding that the wave from Afghanistan came quickly and on short notice. “It played a critical role.”
Pauly said Omaha’s shortage of affordable housing, especially for larger families, exacerbates the search for more permanent living arrangements for refugees. His agency sometimes turns to hotels for short-term housing needs, he said.
Overall, the average stay of a refugee in an Airbnb host site has been about 17 days, DeBold Fusco said. “Sometimes shorter, sometimes longer,” she said, depending on need.
State lawmakers weigh in
Airbnb.org talked to a few Nebraska state senators, who said Omaha and Lincoln were welcoming cities.
“Lincoln is home to a community that understands just how important it is to welcome Afghan newcomers with open arms, providing a soft landing for those who have had to leave behind everything they have ever known,” State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln said in a news release. “It’s wonderful to see how Airbnb.org’s efforts are providing safe havens to refugees as they arrive here in Lincoln.”
State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha said everyone has a part to play in welcoming the newly arrived.
“When we support refugees and other new Americans, they thrive and make our communities stronger. I am glad to join Airbnb.org to support refugees in Nebraska, and will continue to support efforts that address the rising housing needs in the Omaha area.”
Now that Airbnb.org has met the 20,000 goal for Afghan refugees, DeBold Fusco said, it has made a new commitment to provide temporary housing to another 20,000 refugees, which could include Afghans as well as those fleeing other countries.
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