April 20, 2015

Hack Housing: Empowering Smarter Decisions

I attended "Hack Housing: Empowering Smarter Decisions" from February 6-8, 2015 at Zillow's corporate headquarters in Seattle, Wash. Co-sponsored by the Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington with participation from the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the focus of the hackathon was to develop products and create solutions to aid home buyers and renters with particular needs. Specifically, teams were asked to develop creative solutions that will make it easier for first-time homebuyers, low-income renters and senior citizens to find a home that meets their needs.

Deep housing data is more accessible than ever thanks to companies like Zillow and federal open data efforts. This wealth of information, however, remains fragmented across a number of dense .gov websites and can be confusing even for the experts. Hackathon participants had access to newly released government data sets on topics like federal housing programs, apartment buildings with accessory dwelling units and transit information. In addition, Zillow made available its data on home values and rents.

GeekWire published an article about the hackathon, which over 200 individuals attended grouped into 30 teams, explaining that "ideas ranged from a social network that helps people find accommodating roommates, to software that calculates the return on investment for landlords interested in offering space to low-income renters, to a tool that lets senior citizens filter available housing based on specific accessibility requirements like ramped entryways, wide doorways, or supportive bars in the bathroom, for example."

Aaron Rose, Bernard Chester,
Mengqian Liu, Jiaming Liu, and
Eric Kang attend "Hack Housing:
Empowering Smarter Decisions" on
Feb. 6-8, 2015 in Seattle, Wash.
Over the course of the weekend, I collaborated with a group of talented individuals in creating an app that provided a list of housing options available based on specific search criteria such as purchase price, geographic location, and local services available (i.e., schools, health clinics, public transportation, etc.). While I am proud of the app our team developed, our app was not picked for one of the three top places by a panel of judges that included Zillow Chief Technology Officer David Beitel, UW Computer Science & Engineering professor Ed Lazowska, and the City of Seattle's Deputy Mayor of External Affairs, Hyeok Kim.

The $10,000 first-place prize was awarded to SmartMove, an app developed by Tim Lebell, Jake Grajewski, and David Puerto that determines the best place to live based on proximity to a person's most-visited locations, like a workplace, the grocery store, and other places critical to their daily lives.

The second place prize of $5,000 went to a team who created "Push to Rent," which, as explained in the GeekWire article, lets users upload rental application information once and easily use the data again for future listings. For those that may not have a smartphone or Internet access, the app has a text message feature that gives people a way to apply via text messaging."

The third place prize of $3,000 went to Team Cellophane who came up with "Zillow Wheeler," "which provides a better way for those with disabilities to search for accessible housing. Instead of one checkbox for 'accessible' that many sites feature today, the team's app would include filters for specific housing options like roll-in showers or kitchens with adequate counter heights."

Overall, the "Hack Housing: Empowering Smarter Decisions" was a great experience where I met talented people trying to create innovative solutions through mobile applications to help first-time homebuyers, low-income renters and senior citizens to locate a home that meets their particular needs.

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