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Zillow launches affordable housing search tool for Seattle

The tool aims to reduce the time it takes to manually look for available homes that are affordable and accessible.

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Online property marketplace Zillow has developed a tool to help match people experiencing homelessness with owners of affordable vacant rental properties.

 

The search tool was developed in collaboration with the Seattle Office of Housing, local non-profit organisation Housing Connector and its network of service providers and property owners. It was launched by Seattle mayor Jenny A Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

 

Through the tool, Housing Connector partner landlords can quickly upload housing inventory, allowing local non-profit service providers to find affordable housing vacancies in real-time.

 

“Our community desperately needs more affordable housing,” said Shkelqim Kelmendi, executive director of Housing Connector, which was set up last year. “And while we’re working to build that housing out, people need that home today.”

 

According to the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, around 11,199 people are homeless in the area, either living on the streets, in shelters or in transitional housing.

 

 

Streamlined process

 


"Zillow’s new application streamlines the connection between property managers who have apartments available and families who need housing now," said Executive Constantine. "We are grateful for their partnership with our Housing Connector programme and for their commitment to being part of the solution to the crisis of homelessness in our region."

 

Thirty-five landlords and 42 non-profit service providers throughout Seattle and King County have signed up for the launch. To help attract private property-owners and landlords as partners, Housing Connector provides free referrals to ready-to-rent residents (for example, those who have benefits packages in place but have not been able to find a home or been accepted for one).

 

For those seeking accommodation, it offers financial support to ensure access to benefits to cover costs such as rent guarantees, security deposits, damage mitigation funds, and unit hold fees. In exchange, property owners will adjust criteria or lower barriers for potential tenants, opening up units that were previously inaccessible to those experiencing homelessness.

 

Through the tool, Housing Connector partner landlords can quickly upload housing inventory, allowing local non-profit service providers to find affordable housing vacancies in real-time.

 

The search tool was developed by the Social Impact Product team within Zillow, a group of software engineers and product managers focused on developing products that “create positive change”.

 

A spokesperson for Zillow told SmartCitiesWorld: “We’re very curious to see whether other cities around the country will approach us [about the tool].”

 

They added: “We can build smart and very convenient technology but you really need that intermediary like Housing Connector that is convincing local landlords to participate. Housing Connector is the real magic – and we’re a useful tool to make it easier.”

 

Innovation Advisory Council

 

The project has come out of Seattle’s Innovation Advisory Council, which was set up in August 2018 to bring corporate, academic and non-profit organisations together to collaborate with the City of Seattle on the use of data and technology to tackle homelessness, affordability, mobility and other pressing issues. Members include Amazon, Expedia Group, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter.

 

Mayor Durkan said: "We are fortunate to live in one of the most innovative, talent-rich ecosystems anywhere on the planet – and for too long, our government has existed as if we have no relationship to it. I created the Innovation Advisory Council because we know that the challenges facing our region cannot be addressed by government alone.

 

"I am incredibly proud of the work that Zillow and the Housing Connector have done to make it easier for people experiencing homelessness to find affordable housing and for affordable housing providers to connect with those in need. Zillow, Housing Connector and the Seattle Office of Housing have shown that by working together, we can find truly innovative solutions to some of our region’s most pressing challenges."

 

The project has come out of Seattle’s Innovation Advisory Council, which was set up in August 2018 to bring corporate, academic and non-profit organisations together to collaborate with the City of Seattle on the use of data and technology to tackle homelessness, affordability, mobility and other pressing issues.

 

Many cities are facing a housing affordability crisis, including a number in the US with a thriving tech sector, such as San Francisco and Seattle. Despite the benefits a tech boom brings to cities, it can also drive up housing prices and widen inequality.

 

In May 2018, Seattle City Council voted unanimously to impose a ‘head tax’ on companies that gross over $20 million a year. However, it reportedly faced strong opposition from many of the businesses that would have been affected and a few weeks later, the tax was repealed.

 

Socialist Seattle City Councillor Kshama Sawant has launched a new larger-scale proposal to impose a 1.7 per cent payroll tax on the top 3 per cent of companies to fund social housing and climate action measures. Mayor Durkan said: "I believe that big businesses can and should pay more to address our challenges but this proposal that is six times bigger than the failed council head tax proposal is not a plan that I can support."

 

She has backed a bill to authorise King County to implement a 0.1 to 0.2 per cent tax on compensation paid by large businesses to employees making at least $150,000 a year, with exemptions for small businesses, government entities and some other companies.

 

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