San Francisco Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development

An introduction to DAHLIA: a centralized, open-source housing application and listings platform that helps people learn about, apply for, and gain access to affordable housing.


The City and County of San Francisco, led by Mayor London Breed, works to provide all who call San Francisco home with a safe, vibrant, inclusive city. The ever-growing population of nearly 900,000 residents, however, have long felt the effects of the Bay Area’s affordable housing crisis. The Housing Division of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) believes in a San Francisco where people can find affordable housing with ease and transparency.

The Problem

Finding affordable housing with ease and transparency was not possible two years ago. Applicants faced many hurdles, including lack of information and clarity about housing options, and eligibility criteria, a tedious, paper-based application process, and an obscure selection process.

client centered user experience
The Approach

"User-friendly housing listings guide users through determining their eligibility and finishing applications."

—  Roshen Sethna, Partner

Roshen Sethna

The Housing Portal is designed to serve a diverse population with an accessible set of tools to use throughout the process of finding and applying for affordable housing. Exygy started by conducting user research with several demographics including low and middle income households, seniors, veterans, disabled users, users living with HIV/AIDS, and users with housing vouchers. Our research identified key pain points in these users’ journey. Our design and product team crafted a roadmap with a set of features in the backlog to address these pain points in priority order. The housing applicant served as the main user group while housing counselors, MOHCD staff members, and leasing agents served as the broader user groups.

product design for affordable housing

Our agile approach allowed us to go from design to development and initial alpha release of the product in four months. We’ve since continued to release features iteratively. The web application for the DAHLIA Housing Portal has been built using a stack of Ruby on Rails and Angular.

The Impact

"DAHLIA allows users to create profiles — quickening what has historically been a painstaking process."

— Jesse James, Lead Designer

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Today, DAHLIA is:

  • A single trusted resource that has a comprehensive list of all of the city’s housing options.
  • Every listing has the same level of information listed in the same format. Applicants can easily filter and find listings that meet their needs.
  • There is universal short format application. We’ve reduced the application time from several days of running around the city to a 15 to 20 minute process online.
  • Applicants can sign back in and check the status of their application any time.
tech product design

Since the website went live in November 2016, 92% of people apply online when there is an option to do so. We have had over 70,000 applications, and we’ve just celebrated our 1,500,000th site visitor. Now, DAHLIA has long term impact on the city’s strategy. The data from the portal will be used influence policy and programs at the Mayor’s Office.

The public version of the housing website is available at

We have recently begun work to expand DAHLIA to other jurisdictions and we are are always happy to share more about this work. Visit for the latest updates.

Download our Bloom Report for the most in-depth look at how we are digitizing access to affordable housing.

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