Expanding Affordable Housing Nationally with Bloom Housing in Detroit
In 2021, Bloom Housing expanded nationally starting with the City of Detroit. Engaging with new stakeholders and communities gives us the opportunity to reimagine how we can better impact access to affordable housing across the country.
In 2016, Exygy and the City of San Francisco created DAHLIA — the city’s first digital affordable housing portal that replaces a confusing paper-based process with a digital application that takes approximately 20 minutes. Bloom Housing’s open-source code now powers the entire Bay Area’s affordable housing process.
With the success of the Bloom Housin in the Bay Area, it has always been our goal to expanded nationally. The first opportunity to do so was with the City of Detroit.
We have a national affordable housing crisis in the country that affects all types of municipalities, from rural areas to urban centers like Detroit. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has estimated that the U.S. is facing a shortage of 7 million rental homes that are affordable and available to extremely low-income renters. About half of Americans say the availability of affordable housing in their community is a major problem, and this disproportionately impacts Black residents. Economic displacement, the direct result of the affordable housing shortage, makes residents more likely to move out of metropolitan areas, into blighted housing, or rely on homeless shelters.
This affordable housing crisis is especially felt In Detroit, where the median household
income sits around $33,000, and a third of residents live in poverty. Many of the affordable units created through state and federal resources are still out of reach for families.
With so many complex needs, municipalities working to increase affordability and housing supply also need to make sure their residents are connected to the existing affordable housing. Affordable housing seekers often get information about housing opportunities from sources like signs and advertisements, Google searches, and word-of-mouth. Due to the limiting nature of these forms of marketing, the City of Detroit wanted to ensure that residents had equal access to information about affordable housing opportunities. Additionally, we learned through our user research that many residents have to travel to affordable properties in person to make inquiries or apply for a unit. We heard from people who had to take three buses and request time off work to apply for housing they may not even receive. This method puts an unnecessary burden of time and resources on an already at-risk population.
“Our partnership with Exygy has played an integral role in our efforts to ensure equitable access to affordable housing in Detroit. Every year, the department deploys millions of dollars to construct and preserve affordable housing units. However, before Detroit Home Connect, we did not have a centralized platform to ensure the widest distribution of Detroiters could learn about new and existing affordable housing opportunities. The website now serves as our city’s first innovation to streamline the search for housing. We can’t thank the Exygy team enough for their tireless efforts to center our residents’ needs in this work.”
- Safiya Merchant, HRD Policy Analyst and Detroit Home Connect Project Director
Bloom Housing has already been widely implemented across the Bay Area, but we don't want to stop there! Our goal is to bring Bloom Housing's potential to cities across the U.S. Our first opportunity to do this was partnering with the city of Detroit.
We have always held the idea that tech created for the people should belong to the people. When we created DAHLIA in partnership with the city of San Francisco and scaled it to Bloom Housing, we were adamant that it should be an open-source project. The opportunity to work with Detroit was a direct result of Exygy’s commitment to maintaining Bloom Housing as an open-source product.
A team of Google.org Fellows was already working with the city when Exygy was brought in to complete their work and bring Detroit Home Connect all the way to release. In the words of Exygy’s founder Zach Berke, “We were all working together for the same reasons - a partnership focused on impact and providing value to those critically in need of services.”
By partnering with Google.org, we were able to leverage high-impact teams to provide value to those in critical need of services. It also enabled us to efficiently adapt the Bloom Platform to meet the unique needs of Detroit residents. From a technical standpoint, there are two paths to Bloom's development: a regional and an independent system. In a regional system, multiple cities are stakeholders. In an independent system, the needs of the platform are adapted to one specific city's needs. The beauty of Bloom Housing is it can do both. The independent city system brings the core functionality of the platform to a city while also leveraging the flexibility of Bloom Housing’s code to be adapted to the specific needs of a jurisdiction. To learn more about the technical aspect of Bloom Housing check out this blog post by our Director of Engineering, Sean Albert – How Bloom Housings Techincal Architecture Can Adapt from Regional to Independent Systems.
Through our user interviews and collaboration with city staff, we developed customizations to the platform that address key local priorities. We identified that one key pain point for affordable housing seekers in Detroit was identifying available affordable housing. We were then able to specially adapt Bloom Housing’s functionality and design to give home seekers a place to access information on all regulated properties.
As a result, Bloom Housing now provides Detroit residents with the ability to search through an inventory of 161 affordable properties, learn about their eligibility, and receive notifications about new availability and upcoming developments. The site also includes tutorial videos and resources to provide more transparency around the affordable housing search and application process.
Detroit Home Connect is part of an ongoing effort by the City of Detroit Housing and Revitalization Department to provide actionable tools and resources directly to residents to enhance housing stability city-wide. Detroit Home Connect will serve as a supplementary tool to the department’s new Housing Services Division, which provides direct case management to individuals in immediate need of new housing who are at risk of becoming homeless. Together, programs and tools like Detroit Home Connect and the Housing Services Division form a suite of resources for Detroiters in need of affordable, stable housing.
Detroit Home Connect leverages the benefits of Bloom’s open-source flexibility to customize an established platform to best address the needs of Detroiters. The 2022 launch of DHC was not only a win for making access to affordable housing for Detroit residents more accessible but it also proved the immense potential that Bloom Housing has to impact affordable housing on a national scale. The ease and adaptability of the platform to the needs of Detroit are a testament to the versatility and quality of Bloom’s Open Source platform. Our mission since the conception of Bloom Housing with DAHLIA has always been to make access to affordable housing easy, efficient, and transparent to everyone. That mission remains true today. Working with Google.org and the City of Detroit is a huge step in realizing a world where these types of services are available to everyone.