HUD’s housing locator aids victims

Online rental listings fill in the large gaps discovered after Hurricane Katrina hit

HUD’s housing locator could have additional uses

at the Housing and Urban Development Department, said Alba Aleman, president of Citizant, the company that developed the locator.
HUD could use the same application that pools housing lists for state and local partners for a separate use: mandatory reporting under the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. The locator could reduce labor costs by eliminating the need for employees to manually pull information from multiple systems, Aleman said.

The Office of Management and Budget and Congress require agencies to report performance progress in many areas, such as financial management and information security.

“Every year they get new reporting requirements, new mandates,” Aleman said. “What they end up doing is creating more work for the existing workforce because HUD has to respond, and in a timely fashion.”

— Mary Mosquera

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Find a link to HUD’s housing locator system on FCW.com’s Download at www.fcw.com/download.

When floods hit four counties in Texas this summer, the Housing and Urban Development Department acted quickly to help those communities locate temporary homes for the disaster victims.

Two years ago, acting quickly was far from being the case. Federal, state and local officials were unprepared to find housing for the thousands of victims suddenly left homeless in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“HUD’s National Housing Locator is a response to the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and related disasters,” said Walter Harris, HUD’s deputy chief information officer.

The housing locator is a searchable, online clearinghouse of rental housing available nationwide. It lets HUD, state and public housing authorities and first responders find rental housing and available government-owned single-family homes to house people during emergencies. The housing locator complements HUD’s housing and emergency disaster voucher programs.

Launched in January, the locator brings together on a single platform federal housing resources, commercial apartment locators and housing Web sites. Housing agency employees and emergency responders can immediately access lists of available housing nationwide. The locator draws information from government databases and online commercial housing data providers such as SocialServe.com, Apartments.com, HomeSales.gov and Rent.com.
In March, HUD added a geospatial-enabled search capability to the system. In June, the agency incorporated a case-management and customer-service module to track and manage housing aid and other emergency assistance, such as the Agriculture Department’s Food Stamp program.

The locator includes information on landlords and properties, with pictures and virtual tours of the housing, Harris added.
In October, HUD will release a new version of the housing locator, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Veterans Affairs Department will be able to access. It also will have interfaces to HUD internal systems, the Disaster Voucher Program and the Disaster Housing Assistance Program, Harris said.

The locator lets users set search for a desired location by using criteria such as city, area code, price range, acceptance of housing vouchers, accessibility, assisted and elderly accommodations, and number of bedrooms.

The locator searches the databases of designated partners nationwide and displays information about available housing in a report format. A housing query sends the user to the public or private housing organizations that provide the data. The original data provider delivers the details on the rental, points of contact and, in most cases, housing photos, Harris said.

During the Texas floods in July, HUD staff members worked in FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers. One of those employees, Edward Ellis, used the National Housing Locator to provide lists of available housing to FEMA staff members, who subsequently provided the data to recovery centers in the communities affected by flood damage.
The housing locator “definitely made the task of finding available housing properties less time-consuming,” Ellis said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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