BOSTON — State officials and nonprofit housing organizations plan to develop a second-in-the-nation online tool over the coming year to make every affordable rental unit listing available on a single platform.
Plans call for the Housing Navigator Massachusetts tool to list the state's entire inventory of affordable rentals, current openings and lotteries under one umbrella. It would give property managers a simple way to manage their listings online.
Officials and advocates hope that consolidating the information in one location will increase access to affordable housing, which has become increasingly difficult to find in a strained market.
"We are proud to support this new initiative, which will help simplify an often complicated and opaque process for families looking for a home they can afford," said Department of Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Janelle Chan.
Work is underway on the Navigator — boosted by "initial-stage financial support" from MassHousing, Kuehn Charitable Foundation, Massachusetts Housing Partnership, The Boston Foundation and individual donors, according to a press release — and backers expect it to be ready to launch some time in 2020.
Minnesota is the only other state in the nation that offers a one-stop online tool collecting all available affordable housing listings, officials said.
"The Navigator aligns with MassHousing’s mission to confront the housing challenges facing the Commonwealth to improve the lives of its people," MassHousing Executive Director Chrystal Kornegay said. "We use technology for so much today, many may be surprised this doesn’t already exist."
Massachusetts has fewer than half as many affordable units of housing available as it needs for the population of extremely low-income residents, a definition that includes households earning 30 percent or less of their area's median income, according to an April report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
State legislators for years have been unable to agree on a major housing production bill despite a general consensus that the the existing housing situation is untenable for many people and a drag on economic growth.
Despite the conditions, officials supporting the Housing Navigator initiative say that some property managers have open waitlists but struggle to transmit information to potential residents.
The roughly 200 housing search employees across the state spend more than half of their time looking for property listings, too, work that would become easier with a centralized tool, officials said.
"At a time when affordable housing is already in short supply, the idea that thousands of families suffer with unaffordable rents or risk homelessness simply because they can’t access information on where units are available is not acceptable," Boston Foundation CEO Paul Grogan said in the release. "Housing Navigator Massachusetts is a smart solution that we are pleased to be able to support."