Nonprofit Housing Connector has helped house 3,754 people over the last three years, 66% of which are households of color. The organization uses Zillow’s technology to match private landlords with vacant units with people looking for affordable housing.
The initiative was launched in Seattle in 2019 and expanded to Denver in 2021 and aims to house families and individuals who face trouble finding a place to live due to past evictions.
A majority of the people helped by Housing Connector earn less than $28,000 a year. In Seattle a renter will spend about $27,420 every year for housing and one in Denver will spend $24,335, according to Zillow.
In 2021 the program expanded into Washington’s Pierce County and into Denver in November, with the help of housing-focused organizations like Metro Denver Homeless Initiative (MDHI) and HousingFirst Lab.
The organization’s founder and executive director, Shkëlqim Kelmendi, moved to the U.S. with his family as refugees from Kosovo and since they did not have a credit history, they faced challenges in finding housing in a new country.
Kelmendi says the program was created to ensure that homes do not sit empty while there are people looking for a place to live, especially vulnerable people who are already unhoused.
“This business-to-business approach is a win for everyone, serving as a bridge for property owners with vacant apartments to connect with case managers and ready-to-rent tenants,” Kelmendi said in the release. “Tapping into existing, available homes is an effective and efficient way to remove barriers to housing for people living unsheltered.”
Housing Connector offers financial guarantees, damage mitigation and local community support, which makes renting homes for families easier. The program also eliminates the need for case managers to manually review or contact properties to check if their clients are eligible for long-term housing since they can access available units through the listing platform.
“I’ve been able to use the search tool with clients to find affordable units in the Denver area that can work for them, and then Housing Connector steps in to either help take care of deposits or troubleshoot with property managers to make sure everyone can stay housed,” said Nicole Brown, case manager for Volunteers of America Colorado, in a release.
The median monthly rent in the U.S. is more than $2,000 nationally, an increase of 15% year over year and a 37% increase since 2017. This has led to a further increase in homelessness.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 326,000 people experienced sheltered homelessness in 2021, a decrease of 8% from 2020. HUD waived the count of unsheltered homelessness in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Homelessness affects people of color at a higher rate than white people in the country.
“We were founded on ‘Turning on the Lights’ for people navigating a complex and often difficult journey when trying to find a home,” said Aldona Clottey, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Zillow. “Our technology has helped achieve that in real estate and we want to offer this expertise for those facing the challenge of finding a way out of homelessness.”
The program partners with property owners, managers and landlords. More than 1,300 properties in the Seattle and Denver areas were listed with Housing Connector, consisting of more than 73,000 homes.
Through Zillow’s search tool, case managers and their clients can access listings of affordable housing. Properties on the program adjust or waive criteria like credit and rent history for residents.
Upon matching a client with a unit, Housing Connector comes in with two years of guaranteed rent, damage mitigation and two years of housing stability support for property owners.
“As a leader in affordable housing, with decades of experience managing thousands of rental units across the western United States, we knew immediately the value Housing Connector would bring to Denver’s affordable housing landscape,” Brooke Parra, executive vice president of Ross-Envolve Communities, said in the release.
“Through this partnership, once a vacancy comes up, our community managers list the vacancy and Housing Connector’s partners can find the unit and begin placing a tenant.”
In total, 162 community providers like the city of Redmond and Volunteers of America in Denver, use the program to house clients in vacant properties.
“Thanks to our strong partnership with Housing Connector, we are proud to have assisted with finding housing for more than a dozen households in just four months in Redmond, as well as in Kirkland and Bellevue,” said Angela Birney, mayor of Redmond, in the statement.