Portland puts housing search online
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Apr 30, 2002
After two years in development, Portland, Ore., has launched a searchable
electronic clearinghouse of affordable and special needs housing opportunities
for its middle- to low-income population.
Andy Miller, housing program coordinator with Portland's housing and
community development bureau, said the Web site (www.housingconnections.org) is essential because of the high cost of housing
in the region.
"Portland has been identified as the second-least-affordable community
in the country," second to San Francisco, he said. Committee reports and
audits have shown that the housing system was "overly fragmented, which
meant people didn't have a clue [as] to where to go to look for housing
or services," he added.
The site, launched April 19, already lists 10,000 affordable units,
and Miller said he expects that figure would triple. Without any marketing,
it registered 1,000 searches during its first week. An aggressive marketing
campaign is planned, including placing ads in newspapers and on public transportation
vehicles, via posters in major agencies, and to landlords through their
The site enables landlords to securely log in and update in real time
the units they have for rent in the four counties around Portland. Users
can search the site using a variety of parameters, such as cost, unit size,
location, accessibility for people with disabilities, and the date a unit
Originally geared toward 150 nonprofit groups which previously had
to thumb through "dog-eared, very dated paper lists" in helping people find
affordable housing Miller said the public now can use the site directly.
Internet use among low-income people "has skyrocketed" in the past two
years, he said. Part of the project's $1.2 million budget will be used to
help set up computer workstations throughout the area to offer Internet
access or to help housing agencies buy computers and Web access.
In 2000, the city received a three-year, $480,000 grant from the Commerce
Department's Technology Opportunities Program (www.ntia.doc.gov/otiahome/top/index.html), a competitive federal initiative
designed to promote technology. The city itself put up about $700,000 and
is donating server space, among other things.
Miller said public/private cooperation as well as a close working relationship
between the city's housing department and its geographic information systems
division helped propel the project.
Within the next year, Miller said the city hopes to build functionality
on the site, including an online "housing problem solver" application where
members of the public can complete a self-assessment to find out what services
they need and where they can get them. Eventually, the site will enable
users to complete online housing applications and enable agencies to refer
people to one another.
Although similar sites exist, Miller said he believed Portland's will
be more advanced and added that several cities have already inquired about
developing one like it. He said the city may even consider becoming an application
service provider for other cities.
"The idea of delivering a community service that's used by low-income
people and delivering that using an e-government solution is fairly new
from what we've seen," he said. "The proof will be in the pudding, but we
have nothing but high hopes for what we're doing."