Improving Affordable Housing Access via a Google-Detroit Partnership

Kelsey Kane-Ritsch (kk3395)

  1. Sustainability Problem (Civic Engagement): Climate change increases housing insecurity and climate emergencies can destabilize communities. Low-income renters may be especially hard hit as climate impacts act as a multiplier of existing challenges. One way to mitigate against the negative impacts of climate change is to provide resilient homes to more families via improved access to affordable housing. In many cities, it can be complex and confusing to apply for affordable housing and often those who need it do not have access to the time or technology to sift through housing information and paperwork. Some affordable housing search tools already exist (i.e.; but a big obstacle to the success of such tools is acquiring quality data and inputting it in a timely manner.
  2. Solution (Google affordable housing search tool): The City of Detroit has partnered with’s Fellowship Program to create an affordable housing search tool with the goal of making it easier to find and apply for affordable housing. Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department will work with thirteen Google employees to build the affordable housing portal that will go live in late 2021.
    • The Detroit housing portal will provide background on affordable housing, eligibility, and application requirements.
    • It will also compile updated information on available affordable housing options into a central location and keep it regularly updated.
    • Google’s experience with sourcing and cleaning lots of data will be useful in overcoming data challenges associated with developing such a tool.
    • The one-stop affordable housing portal will also aim to streamline paperwork and inconsistent application requirements to help users submit applications and avoid rejections on technicalities.
    • Google may be able to provide additional value by integrating the tool with information from Google Earth on each property.
    • Article:
  3. Stakeholders:
    • The City of Detroit (and specifically Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department);
    • Google’s philanthropic arm;
    • Detroit residents (especially those in search of affordable housing);
    • Community-based organizations;
    • Housing counselors;
    • Landlords/property owners in Detroit.
  4. Implementation:
    • The first step of the tool’s implementation plan is already underway, and that is to conduct extensive interviews with community members to determine their needs and what they hope to see in the tool.
    • Google engineers will need to evaluate data options for availability and integrity.
    • The Google team and city will then need to analyze the community feedback against available data and determine how to best address the needs of the community with the information available.
    • A soft launch should be tested with community members for feedback before completing the portal and launching for all of Detroit.

One thought on “Improving Affordable Housing Access via a Google-Detroit Partnership

  1. #dg3199

    Whenever big tech comes into communities with an attempt to make “recommendations” and “solutions” I am always skeptical. I love the usage of big data in solving such an important issue, but I wonder what mechanisms Google is using to combat ivory tower bias. To what extent is this a partnership besides the interviews with Detroit residents? I suppose I am not really sure of a better alternative, and I am really in no position to criticize people actually trying to make a difference. I wonder whether tech companies should come up with some sort of model of citizen engagement to avoid problems of bias and massive disconnect (like Amazon’s attempt to move HQ2 to Queens in NYC).


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