Housing Data Coalition (HDC)
The Housing Data Coalition (HDC) is a group of individuals and organizations who collaborate to make public data more accessible and actionable for those seeking to further housing justice in New York City.
Amid New York City’s current housing crisis, “Big Data” is being used to spur a venture-funded real estate tech industry that fuels predatory speculation and capitalizes on a racist history of disinvestment in the neighborhoods where people of color live. The HDC applies this same data, gleaned from public sources, to counteract capitalist, gentrifying forces, and further the right to housing in New York City.
Through a structure of working groups and monthly meetings, HDC provides opportunities for coalition members to connect, learn, and give mutual support to a variety of projects involving housing data. HDC members address housing justice from a variety of standpoints. Many members are professionally affiliated with housing in New York City—coming from nonprofit organizations that engage in housing research, policy advocacy, tenant organizing, and technical support and capacity building. Some members are involved in grassroots organizing around housing justice issues, and others bring tech expertise and volunteer time to HDC’s projects. All members share a commitment to furthering housing justice in New York City.
Current work by HDC members includes:
The main technical project supported collaboratively by HDC members is NYCdb, a tool for bringing together various housing related datasets into a single, easy-to-access database. NYCdb can be accessed by downloading a copy of the database from github, accessing HDC’s hosted instance of NYCdb online (available only to HDC members), or building the database via the command line. During the grant period, members of HDC contributed work to the database itself, including adding new datasets, creating a shared instance of the database that auto-updates whenever new data is released by the city, and providing detailed documentation around the data contained in the database.
In addition to maintaining the database, HDC members worked to obtain additional data to add to the database by filing FOIA requests or working with city agencies to access previously unavailable data. To date, members have successfully obtained Marshal’s eviction data from the Department of Investigations (DOI), as well as an extract of all landlord and tenant cases in NYC from New York State’s Office of Court Administration.
In order to make our work accessible to non-HDC members and practitioners working in the field, the Housing Data Coalition holds a number of trainings, and members speak about our work at public events throughout the year. HDC members held seven trainings throughout the grant period.
From the outset, it has been incredibly important to members of the Housing Data Coalition that the group not be comprised solely of civic tech enthusiasts. We have seen these groups operate in other spaces, and while we recognize that they may produce interesting work, we find that at best, their projects are often influenced by their own interests and a desire to “build” something, and at worst they are simply vanity projects meant to contribute to the creator’s portfolio rather than be sustained over time as a resource for the community.
The Housing Data Coalition makes an active and concerted effort to maintain a balance within our membership of folks working in tech and folks working in the housing justice community. In order to engage non-technical folks within the housing justice community, during the grant period HDC members embarked on a listening tour. The purpose of the tour was to reach out to grassroots tenant organizing groups to 1) get to know them better and understand where they might have needs that HDC could help fulfill, and 2) to proactively introduce them to HDC and present ourselves as both a resource for their work and a group where they would be welcomed.
Over a period of eight months, we conducted interviews with seven grassroots organizations to better understand how we could support their work. Recognizing that many of these organizations are underfunded (or unfunded) and their organizers don’t always have time to attend a housing-related extracurricular after work, we also wanted to understand how we might use some of the Digital Impact funding to forge stronger ties to these organizations without asking them to show up to our meetings. We wanted to understand how we might meet them where they are at in terms of their time, availability, and need for support. Ultimately this led us to ask the groups participating in the listening tour to submit funding proposals detailing how they would use a modest grant from HDC.
Carrying out the listening tour as part of the larger Digital Impact grant reaffirmed a core belief at HDC. It reminded us that executing HDC’s mission is dependent on the sustainability and longevity of the community organizations and grassroots tenant organizing groups that are deeply embedded in their communities.
It also reaffirmed for us that organizers’ day to day needs are not necessarily an app or a website. Rather, there are a wide variety of ways that people working for housing justice operate and pain points that they encounter. We came to believe that it is more useful for HDC to focus on maintaining the infrastructure and data contained in NYCdb, and to help community organizations and grassroots tenant organizing groups access that data in whatever way is important and relevant to their work, rather than trying to anticipate and build tools ourselves that work moderately well across a wide variety of use cases.
The work supported by the Digital Impact grant will continue even after the grant period ends. That said, apart from our member-driven projects, there are three main areas of continued documentation and share-back that we would like to see evolve out of this work: