Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine unveiled a new Zillow-powered search tool to help match local nonprofit service providers and their clients experiencing homelessness with owners of affordable vacant rental units.
A project borne of Mayor Durkan’s Innovation Advisory Council, and launched in 2018, the new search tool was developed by a team of Zillow employees in close partnership with the Seattle Office of Housing, local nonprofit organization Housing Connector and its network of service providers and property owners. The Innovation Advisory Council—whose members come from the corporate, academic and nonprofit sectors—collaborates with the City of Seattle to use data and technology to solve Seattle’s most urgent challenges in the areas of homelessness, affordability, mobility, delivery of essential services and more.
Zillow’s search tool directly addresses one of the biggest challenges for case managers searching for affordable housing for their clients experiencing homelessness. Case managers no longer have to laboriously look for available homes property by property; the units are now at their fingertips through Zillow’s online listing platform. Through Zillow’s search tool, Housing Connector partner landlords will be able to quickly upload housing inventory, and local nonprofit service providers will be able to find housing inventory in real-time for tenants who need affordable housing. Housing Connector landlords have adjusted or waived criteria that would normally prevent those most in need from qualifying for the home.
Thirty-five landlords throughout Seattle and King County and 42 nonprofit service providers are active on the platform as it launches, with more partners expected to be added. Zillow’s search tool does not require or knowingly collect the personal information of tenants and no user information through Housing Connector is sold to third parties.
“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,” says Mayor Durkan. “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.”
“Zillow’s new application streamlines the connection between property managers who have apartments available and families who need housing now,” says Executive Constantine. “We are grateful for their partnership with our Housing Connector program and for their commitment to being part of the solution to the crisis of homelessness in our region.”
“Our community desperately needs more affordable housing,” says Shkelqim Kelmendi, executive director of Housing Connector, “and while we’re working to build that housing, individuals experiencing homelessness can’t wait; they need a home today. Together with Zillow, we are thrilled to launch this new search tool to scale our impact and streamline how individuals access housing with reduced screening criteria, ultimately decreasing the time a unit sits vacant and the number of days a family must experience homelessness.”
“As a company headquartered in Seattle, Zillow is committed to doing what we can to help address one of the greatest challenges facing our region today: housing affordability and homelessness. When asked by the mayor to serve on her Innovation Advisory Council and work with Housing Connector—which needed a better way to find and surface available housing inventory—we saw an opportunity to use our unique skillset to build a tool that will help Housing Connector fulfill its mission to help families find a home,” says Racquel Russell, vice president of Government Relations and Public Affairs for Zillow. “Through the leadership and support of Mayor Durkan and Executive Constantine and a tremendous amount of hard work by some of our most talented employees and engineers, we are excited and honored to launch this new tool that we hope will make a meaningful difference in the lives of our neighbors.”
A coalition of private and public partners, including the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the City of Seattle and King County, launched Housing Connector last year to help private property owners and landlords easily and successfully rent to people experiencing homelessness. The City of Seattle and King County developed the initiative with a business-to-business approach as a key component of homelessness systems change based on the belief that leveraging existing housing in the private market can meaningfully reduce homelessness.
To help attract private property owners and landlords as partners, Housing Connector provides free referrals to ready-to-rent residents and financial support to cover a variety of costs (ensuring access to benefits that include rent guarantee, security deposits, damage mitigation funds and unit hold fees, etc.). In exchange, property owners will adjust criteria or lower barriers for potential tenants, opening up units that previously were out of reach for individuals experiencing homelessness.
To date, Housing Connector already has found homes for 460 individuals and families experiencing homelessness in the region. Thanks to the services and support provided by Housing Connector, renters referred by the organization can find and move into their next home nearly 30 percent faster than the same renters facing similar barriers without the support of Housing Connector. This new tool housed on Zillow.com will help drive that wait time even lower.