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Housing Navigator online search tool hopes to go live in 2020

Posted on November 12, 2019

BOSTON --- The Kuehn Charitable Foundation is leading a group of housing and nonprofit organizations in the development of a new online search tool that will give people with low- and moderate-incomes the ability to quickly find available affordable rental units anywhere in the state. 

Called Housing Navigator Massachusetts, the tool aims to create a more efficient housing search process for both seekers and property owners. The group working with the Kuehn Foundation includes the Citizens' Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), the state Dept. of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), MassHousing, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP) and The Boston Foundation.

Currently, while Massachusetts consistently supports a considerable amount of affordable housing production, there is no comprehensive resource for finding affordable housing online. Partners and stakeholders are now working on the technology, and hope to have the Navigator available sometime in 2020. When it launches, Massachusetts will join Minnesota as the only states in the country with this type of statewide search tool.

The Housing Navigator will provide:

● Comprehensive inventory of affordable rental housing projects

● Comprehensive list of current openings and lotteries

● Information on the inventory of barrier-free/accessible units

● Tools for housing seekers to find appropriate opportunities and understand the eligibility requirements

● Tools for property managers to manage listings and attract eligible applicants

“The Housing Navigator, a central, comprehensive, up-to-date online resource, will increase access to affordable housing opportunities for residents across the Commonwealth,” said Janelle Chan, Undersecretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development. “We are proud to support this new initiative, which will help simplify an often complicated and opaque process for families looking for a home they can afford.”

“Massachusetts is a state at the forefront of both affordable housing production and technology innovation. The Navigator will fill a huge information gap drawing on the energy and expertise of both sectors,” said Jennifer Gilbert, Executive Director of the Kuehn Charitable Foundation. “The Navigator will be welcome relief to households who now struggle to find rudimentary information – housing locations, rents, amenities, proximity to public transportation, openings – that market-rate renters access easily.”

A study conducted by Green River, a mission-focused software development firm, for the Kuehn Charitable Foundation found that there is a high demand from housing seekers and property owners for a comprehensive online listings service. Contrary to assumptions, one of the largest property managers in Massachusetts reported many of its waitlists are open. Yet, without a centralized online source, there is no way for that information to be easily available or actionable. Further, housing search staff (estimated at 200 people statewide) reported spending over 50% of their time hunting for property listings – listings the Navigator would bring together into one place. 

“Today, finding affordable housing is an overwhelming, confusing, and antiquated process,” said Rachel Heller, Executive Director of CHAPA. “The Housing Navigator will make it easier for people to find housing they can afford in communities throughout the state.”

The Housing Navigator’s purpose is simple yet fundamental: provide low- and moderate-income households the readily available information needed to make the best possible housing choice for their needs, preferences, and circumstances - such as housing locations, rents, amenities, proximity to public transportation, and openings. The Housing Navigator will be a user-focused, reliable resource to find where affordable housing is located, where waiting lists are open, and where vacancies exist in developments throughout the Commonwealth.

“The Housing Navigator is a one stop resource for Massachusetts residents looking for an affordable rental home,” said MassHousing Executive Director Chrystal Kornegay. “In addition to listing affordable apartments available throughout the Commonwealth, the Housing Navigator provides consumers with all the information they will need to rent an affordable unit. The platform also allows property owners to publicize available listings, a combination that we believe will provide more housing opportunities for residents across the state.”

“Making it easier for residents to find affordable housing units has long been a priority of ours,” said Clark Ziegler, MHP's executive director. “We helped the Commonwealth develop an online application for public housing and are strongly behind this next step: improving consumer access to privately-owned subsidized housing.  Participation in Housing Navigator will be a condition of our financing for affordable housing.”

“We helped the Commonwealth develop an online application for public housing and are strongly behind this next step: improving consumer access to privately-owned subsidized housing. Participation in Housing Navigator will be a condition of our financing for affordable housing."
Clark Ziegler, MHP 

“At a time when affordable housing is already in short supply, the idea that thousands of families suffer with unaffordable rents or risk homelessness simply because they can’t access information on where units are available is not acceptable.” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “Housing Navigator Massachusetts is a smart solution that we are pleased to be able to support.”

The effort has benefitted from initial-stage financial support from MassHousing, Kuehn Charitable Foundation, MHP, The Boston Foundation and individual donors.