The March 2019 blog post Aligning Efforts on Affordable Housing and Homelessness called for the alignment of housing efforts and goals backed by data. An active inventory of all affordable rental units is described as a critical component for this work. A comprehensive community inventory would help highlight housing gaps, set goals and provide a “go-to” database of housing opportunities in times of crisis (such as displacement due to natural disaster).
Such an inventory does exist.
Socialserve is a local non-profit that maintains a housing inventory at www.NCHousingSearch.org. However, there is additional work required to ensure that it is a truly comprehensive tool to inform goals and help residents find affordable housing.
Socialserve is a nonprofit, bilingual, Charlotte-based call center that connects people to housing and provides supportive, second chance employment. Socialserve offers professional housing location and listing services, assists displaced households in finding new housing, supports waiting list openings, and gathers housing data in 33 states across the country.
Many individuals in Mecklenburg County have experienced barriers to employment such as incarceration, addiction, and housing crises. Our intensive training and support for employees provides them with customer service, sales, and data management skills and experience, so they can assist tenants in searching for housing that meets their needs
ABOUT THE TOOL: NCHOUSINGSEARCH
Socialserve first provided online housing location tools and services for the Charlotte region only. In early 2007, Socialserve expanded to cover the entire state of North Carolina with the launch of the current website.
NCHousingSearch is a free place to both list and search for housing. Tenants can filter their housing searches to exclude properties that conduct criminal background screenings; seek only properties that will accept a Housing Choice Voucher; look for wheelchair accessible homes; or search using many other criteria. The site is supported by Socialserve’s toll-free, bilingual call center 55 hours per week. Socialserve staff are trained to listen and take as much time as needed to help callers find housing or related resources.
Socialserve also assists case managers through specialized access to information about property providers that have indicated a willingness to work with individuals who are experiencing homelessness or domestic violence, as well as veterans and any others who may face barriers to obtaining housing.
WHO USES THE TOOL?
Nearly 5,100 landlords use NCHousingSearch to list units. In fact, there are nearly 30,000 units listed in Mecklenburg County. Over 617,000 searches for housing in Mecklenburg County were conducted on NCHousingSearch in the last year. During that same period, Socialserve’s local call center handled over 13,200 Charlotte area calls. However, the need continues to outstrip both the number of affordable units and the data available.
Despite containing more affordable rental inventory information than any other apartment finder site with almost 30,000 units listed in Mecklenburg County, NCHousingSearch has information on only about 18% of all rental units in the area.
Socialserve does not “scrape” property information from other online apartment listing sites. Instead, Socialserve invites property providers to create and “own” their free NCHousingSearch accounts to ensure that all property information is accurate. Socialserve also follows up with property owners to keep their information current.
NCHousingSearch provides a possible foundation for a comprehensive community inventory of affordable units.
Expanding the current inventory is necessary and possible. Here’s what is needed:
- Encourage all rental property providers to use NCHousingSearch as a free listing service.
- Increase coordination among service providers and case managers to use NCHousingSearch as a one-stop source for accurate rental housing information.
- Share information about NCHousingSearch widely.
Tara Peele is the Executive Director of Socialserve.