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Airbnb gets White House nod for disaster housing initiative

The peer-to-peer home rental service works with hosts in San Francisco and Portland, Ore., to provide emergency housing.

Airbnb's San Francisco site Screenshot by Donna Tam/CNET

Airbnb representatives headed to the White House on Tuesday to announce new disaster relief initiatives with San Francisco and Portland,Ore.

The news coincides with the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Day. Airbnb has entered into agreements with both cities to work with officials "before, during and after disasters."

According to Airbnb, it will put together a pool of hosts who are committed to providing their homes for people who are displaced in case of an emergency. It will also provide emergency preparedness materials and training, and use its app and website to send emergency alerts to its users.

"Opening doors to people who need a place to stay is in the DNA of the Airbnb community," Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in a statement. "When Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, 1,400 Airbnb hosts in New York opened doors and cooked meals for those left stranded."

When the superstorm hit the East Coast in 2012, Airbnb worked with hosts to provide free housing for victims of the natural disaster. Airbnb decided to expand those efforts into a long-term initiative and has previously made similar agreements in other US cities and countries in response to major fires, floods, earthquakes, ice storms, and a typhoon.

While the White House and these cities are embracing Airbnb's good Samaritan initiative, the company has faced scrutiny over other issues, namely ones related to hotel-centric and housing regulations. The issues have been particularly heated in New York, where Airbnb has been the center of controversy over the collection of hotel tax and the indirect creation of short-term rentals. Airbnb had some similar scuffles in San Francisco, the company's home town, but says it will start collecting hotel tax in San Francisco and work with the city on new short-term rental regulations.