February 13, 2015

“Hack Housing” Spurs Private Sector Innovation through Open Data

Photo: Hackathon participants work on creating solutions.

On February 6-8, over 200 software developers, designers and makers gathered at the Zillow headquarters in downtown Seattle for “Hack Housing,” a hackathon co-hosted by Zillow and the University of Washington.

Teams of programmers spent the weekend using open data to build apps that help people find affordable, accessible places to live – and pitching their products in competition for a $10,000 top prize. Zillow Co-Founder Rich Barton, former White House Deputy CTO Nick Sinai, and Lisa Wolters from the Seattle Housing Authority kicked off the event on Friday. The 72-hour jam session also featured an inspiring video message from Nani Coloretti, Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Zillow uses open data from multiple federal agencies, including HUD, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Census Bureau, to deliver insights and information on housing, schools, and communities as part of their living database of more than 110 million homes.

“The Hack Housing event is a blueprint for how government can use our valuable open data assets to help bring private sector innovation to tackle key policy challenges, such as helping seniors age in their homes and connecting low income renters and first time home buyers to housing opportunities,” says Lynn Overmann, Deputy Chief Data Officer of the U.S. Department of Commerce. “Bringing together thought-leaders from industry, academia and local, state, and federal government can generate really compelling product ideas to help solve some of our most difficult housing issues and also drive economic impact.”

The teams at Hack Housing focused on user-centered design to address the needs of specific sets of users, including first-time homebuyers, older Americans and lower-income families. The White House, U.S. Department of Commerce, HUD, Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Census Bureau supported the event by providing know-how and open datasets.

During the final pitch session, competing teams presented to a panel of judges including Stan Humphries, Zillow’s Chief Economist and creator of the Zestimate; Dave Beitel, Zillow CTO; and Dr. Ed Lazowski, The Bill and Melinda Gates Chair of Computer Science at University of Washington. The $10,000 prize was awarded to a team that created “Make the SmartMove”, an app created by Tim Lebell, Jake Grajewski, and David Puerto that allows users to specify their “habitat” and geolocate an optimal place of residence based on the location of place the user frequents, such as their workplace, gym, grocery store, parks and more. The teams that created the “Push to Rent” and “Zillow Wheeler” apps took home the second and third place prizes, respectively.

Events like Hack Housing are a great example of how public-private partnerships and open data can combine to create valuable new tools for Americans. Moving forward, newly released datasets and APIs from both Zillow and HUD may enable entrepreneurs and civic innovators to create compelling solutions in the housing sector that can be delivered to users nationwide.

More information:  View the Hack Housing Video Summary on YouTube

Shula Markland is a Senior Data Architect in the Office of the Chief Information Office.  Jeff Meisel is a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the U.S. Census Bureau.

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