KXAN Austin

Airbnb.org asking Austin residents to help house Afghan refugees

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Airbnb is asking for more Austinites to open their doors to Afghan refugees.

“Demand for housing for refugees is particularly high in Austin, and today, we’re urging local residents to consider hosting our new neighbors,” the short-term rental company said Tuesday.

Refugee Services of Texas says it has resettled 117 Afghans in Austin as of Sept. 1, and it expects to house dozens more by the end of the year.

Earlier this month, RST also told KXAN Austin is leading the way in resettling Afghan refugees in the state.

“Every refugee actually has a caseworker. Their health is also being monitored by the U.S. State Department,” said Airbnb spokesperson Liz Fusco. “So, truly, all we need is for people to open up their homes, and our partners will be able to do the rest.”

But Airbnb host Kelly Graham says right now, an empty room is rare.

“This time of year for the next three months, I’m probably only going to have 2% availability,” said Graham, who owns two Airbnbs in Fredericksburg and manages a third.

That’s part of why he says he can’t offer these spots to Afghan refugees. He also says hosts have to list their units at some sort of discounted rate as part of the initiative.

He tries to help when he can. Last month for example, he housed a family escaping Hurricane Ida at-cost, meaning it covered his expenses, but he didn’t make any profit. He says he can’t do that all the time.

“This is my main source of income, and so it’s kind of a difficult thing to weigh, like, do I give up my main source of income trying to do some good? And so it’s kind of hard,” Graham said.

Fusco says so far, about 5,000 hosts have signed up for this initiative across the country.

“Many hosts have offered to actually make housing available for free via that process, but we understand that there are individuals who can’t afford to do so,” said Fusco.

In August, Airbnb announced it would help temporarily house 20,000 Afghan refugees nationally through Airbnb.org, saying the cost would be funded by donations from the company CEO as well as others.

Since that announcement, the company says the need for temporary housing for Afghan refugees has continued to grow.

The company says it now has the capacity to go beyond its original commitment — if demand for refugee housing “matches the supply in communities where refugees are resettling.”

In a statement to KXAN, RST said it’s grateful to Airbnb for its support, saying it “makes a huge difference in the Austin community-wide effort to provide open hearts and fresh starts for Afghan families.”

If you’re interested in becoming host or donating to this initiative, visit airbnb.org/refugees.