Zillow’s mission is to help home buyers, owners and renters unlock life’s next chapter, and that includes our community’s homeless. In Zillow’s home town of Seattle and King County, more than 11,000 people are without homes; it’s the third-largest homeless population in the country.
Earlier this year, Zillow collaborated with the Seattle nonprofit Housing Connector and local government to launch a rental search tool that connects willing landlords with people who are most in need of housing. Today, Fast Company recognized Housing Connector, and the Zillow search tool, with an honorable mention in its 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards.
“This award recognizes the power of the Zillow platform to help with the most immediate challenges our community faces,” says Samantha Tripoli, community engagement manager for the Zillow for Good program. “It also shows that solutions to complex problems like homelessness can happen when businesses join forces with communities around a shared vision.”
Housing Connector founder Shkëlqim Kelmendi has worked in affordable housing in Seattle for years. He has seen many challenges, but one in particular stands out: learning that a family had been rejected 17 times for apartment units they desperately needed simply because of their credit score.
Housing Connector aims to solve that problem by partnering with landlords to assume the financial risk of waiving screening criteria so people can quickly access units. Initially, the effort to match landlords and renters was entirely manual and could not scale to meet the demand for affordable housing. That’s when Kelmendi partnered with Zillow to integrate Housing Connector with the Zillow rental listings platform with a new search tool.
Technology for Good
Zillow’s search tool lets Housing Connector partner landlords quickly upload housing inventory, and lets local non-profit service providers find housing inventory in real time for their homeless clients. The search tool was developed by the Social Impact Product Team within Zillow, a special team of software engineers and product managers dedicated to developing products that create positive change.
“Alleviating homelessness and housing insecurity has become a primary focus of Zillow’s social impact program,” says Tripoli. “We are bringing our people and our technology to the table to provide in-kind services to create scalable, effective solutions for the long run.”
To date, Housing Connector has found homes for 650 people. That includes Chauncey Williamson of Seattle, who had applied for 20 apartments over two years without a permanent place to live. “The future looks very promising for me. I have a job lined up, a stable home, maybe I will have kids someday. I can see it,” says Williamson.
Housing Connector currently operates across three counties in Washington. Kelmendi aims to expand his program to new cities and social service agencies in the coming years. As Housing Connector evolves, it will integrate Seattle-based Tableau’s analytics platform—providing a way to measure impact and better identify the needs, barriers and preferences of those experiencing homelessness.
To learn how to get involved with connecting landlords to renters experiencing barriers to housing, contact the Housing Connector program today.