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City Teams Up With Once-Enemy Airbnb To Provide Free Housing After Sandy

By Jill Colvin | November 7, 2012 8:29pm

CITY HALL — Sometimes disasters bring enemies together.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new partnership Wednesday with Airbnb to assist people displaced by Hurricane Sandy — an unlikely pairing given the city's past accusations that the popular online apartment-sharing site is a marketplace for illegal hotel rentals.

The site — which is typically used by budget travelers to rent apartments, rooms or couches instead of pricey hotel rooms — has launched a new platform to connect people displaced by Hurricane Sandy with New Yorkers volunteering temporary housing for free.

“It’s time to help each other,” reads the portal, which reported early Wednesday evening that 226 members had already opened up their homes for Sandy victims.

“Since Sandy hit, we’ve seen numerous examples of the private sector using technology to find new ways to help people,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “This new offering from Airbnb is another great way to match New Yorkers in need with those who have something to give.”

But the relationship between the city and the company hasn't always been so amicable.

Airbnb has repeatedly come under fire from city officials, who have accused the company of helping fuel the proliferation of "illegal hotels." The site has also been a target of new state rules that bar apartment rentals for periods of less than 30 days.

"The reality is an awful lot of the owners of the units they advertise on Airbnb are on permanent vacation," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who recently led a push to increase fines for illegal hotels against Airbnb's wishes, said back in September.

The state rules do not apply to rentals when no money is exchanged, so people using the new free portal will not be breaking the law.

Airbnb did not immediately respond to calls for comment, but the company said in a statement that it had already logged 2,500 last-minute bookings in areas impacted by the storm.

“We have been incredibly moved by the outpouring of sympathy and offers of assistance from our Airbnb community of users, and our teams have been working around the clock to pitch in and create an amazing new platform to connect those in need with those who are desperate to help,” cofounder Brian Chesky said.

“We are proud to partner with Mayor Bloomberg to provide an innovative solution to a devastating problem, and we will continue to look at ways to do even more," he added.