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This Zillow-like platform helps find apartments for homeless people

In Los Angeles, it’s now far simpler for nonprofits to find apartments to help people get off the street.

This Zillow-like platform helps find apartments for homeless people
[Photo: Flipboard/Unsplash]

For someone living on the street or in a homeless shelter in Los Angeles, the wait to get housing through the county’s Coordinated Entry program–a system that tries to connect people who are homeless with an apartment or house as quickly as possible–usually takes months, leaving a person waiting without a home. A new platform may help make the wait a little faster, by making it easier both for landlords to list new apartments and for caseworkers to find them.

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The platform, called Lease Up, has a website and app that looks a little like Zillow: On a map of the area, it’s possible for caseworkers to search for apartment listings, which are updated in real time, and filter by criteria like bedroom size or the type of subsidy available. For landlords, the new platform gives a single point of contact instead of multiple different homelessness organizations. When a landlord lists a new unit, nonprofit staff inspect the apartment, and then pay the landlord a holding fee of up to $1,100 so they can keep the unit vacant until a homeless client can go through the paperwork to move in.

[Photo: PATH]
“In the past, it had been a little disjointed, where landlords might have talked to multiple providers to try to find individuals who were interested in renting their units,” says Jennifer Hark-Dietz, chief operating officer for PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), a nonprofit that developed the new platform along with local agencies. “A case manager might call multiple landlords, and landlords were getting 50 calls for one unit. In addition, case managers didn’t have real-time units that were available, so you’d look on Craigslist, make your calls, and you’d hear that the unit has been leased out.”

By simplifying the process for landlords, it’s likely that more will decide to participate and list more units; Lease Up aims to add 2,000 new units to its database over the next year. Landlords can use the platform as a customer service portal and call to get answers to any questions they might have. The holding fee, paid for through funds from a recently passed local ballot measure that uses a quarter cent sales tax to fund homelessness services, gives a financial incentive.

[Screenshot: PATH]

“That really gives them the guarantee that we’re going to find an individual who will be able to lease that quickly,” says Hark-Dietz. “It also takes away the guesswork from how long the Housing Authority paperwork is going to take or how long does it take to get that rent subsidy or the check cut. So we’re able to help them secure that unit. We’re also hoping to decrease their vacancy rate by having this attention put on the relationship.”

Caseworkers can use the platform to search for a particular client’s needs. If someone wants to live near their doctor’s office, for example, it’s possible to easily search for listings close to that address. Each listing includes details about accessibility, critical for clients with disabilities, and it’s possible to see at a glance how far it is to the nearest grocery store.

L.A., like many cities, sees housing as a first step for stability before someone struggling with homelessness can be expected to keep a job or deal with health issues. Clients who move into an apartment will have support from caseworkers as they rebuild their lives. If someone is eligible for a subsidy from Section 8 or the local rapid rehousing program, that can cover the cost of the first and last month’s rent and assist with ongoing rent payments.

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Of course, Lease Up can’t solve L.A.’s bigger challenge of an overall lack of affordable housing–and because the housing market is so tight, it’s still likely that it could take a long time for everyone in need of housing to get it. But bringing more existing apartments onto the platform–and working more seamlessly with landlords–is an important step. It’s something that the organization now plans to bring to other cities, beginning with Santa Barbara. “We do think that it could be a model for other communities throughout the nation to really recognize that landlords are a crucial part in ending homelessness with us,” she says.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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