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How AirBNB helps users save their homes

August 16, 2012: 11:23 AM ET

Fighting foreclosure, one room rental at a time.

FORTUNE -- Last year Debra Giusti left her job as an IT project manager to help care for her 91 year-old mother, who was suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease and a broken pelvis. But when she tried returning to the workforce, Giusti couldn't find any takers. Meanwhile, the mortgage payments kept coming due on her 3-bedroom home in San Mateo, California.

What saved Giusti from foreclosure wasn't an employer, government assistance or the kindness of strangers. Instead it was AirBNB, the start-up that lets property owners rent out couches, spare rooms and entire homes to those looking for a place to stay. Giusti began renting out a spare bedroom with a private bath in San Mateo, plus a guest apartment with a private entrance beneath her mother's home in San Francisco.

"I would have lost my house by now if it wasn't for AirBNB," says Giusti, who this week interviewed for a job with with company. "Yes it's sometimes strange having people you don't know in the bedroom next to mine, but everyone makes sacrifices for a job. This isn't traditional work, but it's paying the bills."

Giusti isn't alone. AirBNB co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said during Fortune Brainstorm Tech last month that the service has helped "thousands" of homeowners avoid foreclosure. Neither he nor a company spokeswoman were able to back up that claim with verifiable data -- Chesky referred to it as anecdotal extrapolation (see discussion this video, at 21:30 mark) -- but clearly AirBNB is helping at least some people make ends meet.

"AirBNB is currently paying between 30% and 35% of our mortgage," explains Michael Beard, who last December lost his job running a high-end ballet school in Washington, D.C. He and his wife Eileen first rented out a room in their suburban house for the presidential inauguration in 2008, and have been doing so ever since. "We'd probably be able to get by without it, but only by making some very extreme cutbacks," he explains.

AirBNB recently announced that it has now booked over 10 million nights, of which more than 8 million have come in the past year. Tonight it has 963 private rooms or shared rooms available in the nation's top five home foreclosure markets, plus another 1534 entire homes and/or apartments.

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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