- Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County, WA Executive Dow Constantine last week unveiled a Zillow-powered search tool to help people experiencing homelessness be connected with affordable housing.
- The tool, developed by Zillow through a partnership with the Seattle Office of Housing and local nonprofit organization Housing Connector, enables Housing Connector's partner landlords to upload affordable housing inventory. Local nonprofit service providers can then search the inventory to place tenants who need affordable housing.
- So far, 35 landlords and 42 nonprofit service providers are active on the platform, with that reach expected to grow.
Durkan delivered her third annual State of the City address this week and doubled down on commitments to tackle the city's homelessness crisis. She highlighted the impact that nearly $250 million in monetary investment has had on the city's affordable housing inventory since December 2017, and introduced a slew of new solutions to the challenge, including this Zillow tool.
Seattle began exploring the affordable housing search tool in 2018 with the inception of the city's Innovation Advisory Council (IAC), a collaborative effort to foster public-private partnerships and implement data-driven solutions to challenges citywide.
IAC also supported the launch of the Affordable Seattle portal, and is in "the final stages of implementing" a homelessness data model that was developed through a partnership with students at the University of Washington Information School, according to IAC project manager Leah Tivoli. The students completed the data model as a capstone project in 2019, winning the "Best in Class" award.
"We focus exclusively on projects that can make an impact in people’s lives," Tivoli said in an email.
This search tool is the first of its kind for Zillow, which is headquartered in Seattle. Viet Shelton, a spokesperson for Zillow, told Smart Cities Dive that the collaboration with Housing Connector is crucial for this tool's success. For Zillow to implement this tool in other cities, it would likely need to work with an organization similar to Housing Connector that partners with landlords and streamlines how individuals and families access affordable housing stock.
"The real secret sauce is the program, Housing Connector, that is taking the time to build these partnerships with these landlords," said Shelton. While the tool is a catalyst for these efforts, he said Housing Connector's "innovative approach" to getting in-need populations into housing "is really what makes the biggest difference."
To date, Housing Connector has found homes for 460 individuals and families experiencing homelessness in the region, according to a statement.
For a city like Seattle, solving homelessness is more than just placing individuals or families in homes. It involves assessing housing stock, improving housing stability and leveraging data and digital tools to make solutions efficient. Work will continuously need to be done for Seattle to get ahead of its affordability challenges and public-private partnerships play a crucial role in that work, according to Shelton.
"There's certainly a crisis in affordability and homelessness in the Seattle and King County region," he said. "And, it's going to take a lot of different endeavors to solve the issue."