Open data gets social tenants moving

Today, Nesta announced Viridian Housing’s MoveMaker app as winner of the Housing Open Data Challenge. Originally cheekily billed as “Housing Tinder”, MoveMaker connects people in social housing who want to move homes, allowing them to easily compare their current property with others’ and make informed decisions about where to move. It’s not the first product to do it, but existing websites are clunky and expensive, and you have to send out endless messages to everyone whose property you like, without knowing whether they’re also interested in your property. Like Tinder, MoveMaker simplifies the process of contact and follow-up by only connecting people who are interested in each other‘s properties.

As a judge for the Challenge, what I loved most about MoveMaker is that it’s a simple idea, well-executed, and with its users at the heart of the process. As a digital tool, it’s cleanly designed and straightforward to use. As a social tool, it tackles a real and urgent problem. The app idea came out of the struggles Viridian staff saw their clients facing: young, growing families overcrowded in tiny apartments, parents whose twenty-something children have moved out having trouble meeting the extra costs of the “bedroom tax”, and older people who’ve become disabled no longer able to manage their second storey home. While mutual exchange (social tenants swapping homes) isn’t a new idea, it’s traditionally been incredibly difficult for people to find a workable match. MoveMaker might just change that.

But the competition isn’t really about great digital products: it’s about open data. When the competition launched back in the summer, we wrote about how open data could power change for renters. The thing about open data, though, is that in its raw form it’s not particularly useful for anyone except us research geeks. That means that we need to integrate it into simple web and mobile tools, bringing together the large, disparate open datasets, so that we all have the information we need to make informed decisions. That belief informs our own Housing Databank, which is designed to help professionals get quick and easy access to data on homelessness, housing need and house building.

For people already struggling in an unsuitable home, finding a safe and affordable place to move to is stressful enough. Having the time to dig out all the information you need to make the right decision for you and your family is next to impossible. MoveMaker uses open data to make this process transparent. The app rates properties on the key services in the area, such as schools, GPs, public transport, shops and jobs. Users can compare services in their current area with the area they’re thinking of moving to, via a straightforward traffic light rating system that takes all this complex data and distils it into a single-glance snapshot.

As an advice provider, Shelter has always been about empowering people by giving them the information they need to find the solutions that are right for them. Judging this competition, the innovative spirit of all the participants made me feel enthusiastic again about the opportunities this new combination of open data and digital and mobile technology provides. With evictions by social landlords on the rise again after years in decline, easy-to-use digital tools can shift some of the balance of power, giving people back some control over their housing situation and helping them to find suitable, affordable homes for them and their families.

All that said, we can’t expect digital tools and open data to be a panacea for the housing crisis. Ultimately, apps like MoveMaker are a piece of the puzzle that will help some people move on from unsuitable housing. It’s a great innovation, but on its own, it’s not a solution. What we really need is to build more homes, with a fair, realistic mix of market, intermediate and social homes.

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  1. This blog search feature is stupid! I’m on the Shannon Harvey blog entry, and if I do a search for Shannon Harvey it says there are 0 entries. Classy!

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