Project By Kelsey Willard, Garrett Bonfanti

HomeList


We connect people experiencing homelessness to housing options in Austin. These individuals often have various barriers to housing. These can come in the form of prior evictions, legal history, or simply not being able to save for a down payment. At HomeList, we learn about these barriers from our clients and connect them with housing available specifically for them. We achieve this by leveraging both public housing, transitional housing options, as well as a normally hidden list of renters willing to work with people in this situation.

 

Our value promise

We promise to connect people to stable housing.

 

How it works

HomeList is a digital application connecting individuals experiencing homelessness with available private and public housing. Through a dialog with the user, the application gathers the user’s personal information, including any barriers to housing. Then the system matches the user with a housing program or private rental available to them. The system then contacts either the owner of the property for approval, or contacts the organization for availability. Once approved, the system then walks them through the process of signing their lease and moving in to the unit.

A key piece to HomeList is an initiative called the Landlord Outreach Program. This connects non-profit organizations seeking to end homelessness with Austin landlords and offers incentives to take in individuals who have or are currently experiencing homelessness. These incentives typically come in the form of higher than normal security deposits or guaranteed case management if there is a bad situation. These costs are paid for through a specific financial stream built to help individuals get back into housing. By aggregating these additional open units, there is enough available housing units to reduce the number of homeless individuals in Austin. This program is run by the continuum of care organization in Austin, known as the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO).

HomeList interfaces with the landlord outreach program and uses the list of available housing to allow people with lower barriers to rent from an understanding and accepting person. Optimally, this would cultivate stronger relationships with the landlords currently participating in the landlord outreach initiative, and gain further traction in the community as a whole. This also allows people experiencing homelessness to spend less time on the street, and less time worrying about where they will be staying. This allows a greater focus on self sustenance instead of worrying about find a place to live.

Our goal of stable housing comes from an understanding that people are less likely to worry about self-care until they have a stable dwelling, and many people who are living on the street only need a bit of help. These people are normally overlooked because there are other, more vulnerable people who need help sooner. There are unfortunately few options for the less vulnerable population aside from waitlists for case management, and a hope for bootstrapping. The reality of the situation is far from this. The normal waiting period we found from our research participants is close to a year when applying for housing.

We hope to cultivate increased landlord outreach participation by changing the public perception of what it’s like to house someone who is or has experienced homelessness at some point. Contrary to popular belief, someone off of the street is as likely to be evicted as any other renter. With harsh requirements for background and credit checks, it can be incredibly difficult to get off of the street once there. Renters around the city are coming together to make a change though. They make exceptions for certain barriers to allow these people to have a place to live and stabilize their lives.

To measure our success we will look at the average time people wait for housing before HomeList (from our current research this is around 9 months) compared to the amount of time it takes when HomeList is implemented. Not only does decreasing the time people spend on the street benefit the individual and their lives, but it also saves money for the state or city. Below are two visualizations of what it is like for people who do not qualify for case management to try to get housing when on the street. The first shows the experience without HomeList and the second shows the connection to housing when HomeList has been implemented.

On average, an individual experiencing homelessness costs the state around $14,000. These costs come from healthcare, legal costs, general care for these individuals. Keeping someone housed costs less, estimated at around $12,000 for Austin. Saving $2,000 per year per person amounts to a savings of $3 million if the people currently homeless in Austin were to get housed. Actual costs and savings will vary, as roughly 7000 people experienced homelessness in 2016. By helping people get into housing, we not only help them to rebuild their lives from a stable home, but we also save money for the organizations who most frequently interface with people currently experiencing homelessness.