Helping vulnerable people find safe, long-term housing
Support Change Ahead in its mission to help many more vulnerable people find homes, by using technology to automate its pioneering service to match tenants with available properties.
Change Ahead is a charity working to alleviate poverty and prevent homelessness, including by providing practical ways for vulnerable people to find safe, long-term housing. A core part of this is its service to match landlords with vacant properties to people in need of homes.
Change Ahead’s service seeks to accelerate the process of finding people somewhere to live, reduce the anxiety many tenants face during the search, and ensure people live in safe homes. It invites landlords to list vacant properties with Change Ahead. Landlords are vetted to ensure they’re meeting national housing standards. And by the fact that they’re listing with Change Ahead, they’re committed to providing homes for those receiving housing benefits. Change Ahead then matches prospective tenants with available properties.
Mohsin Ravjani, CEO at Change Ahead, takes up the story: “There’s a lot to think about when we’re matching tenants with properties. Factors such as commute time and cost, or proximity to schools and childcare, need to be considered, as well as things like numbers of bedrooms.
“Our old process was largely manual. The matching, in particular, was incredibly time-consuming. Consequently, we had reached a limit of the numbers of people we could place into housing, at about 20 a month. But there were so many more asking for our help: a typical local authority will have several thousand looking for homes at any given time, and there are around 400 local authorities in the country.
“We knew technology could enable us to scale what we do significantly, but we didn’t have the funds to build it. It’s why it was so wonderful that Softwire suggested doing this project for us free of charge, as part of its summer internship programme.”
Our interns designed and built a cloud-based application to automate Change Ahead’s two most resource-intensive and time-consuming processes, while learning about user experience design, dashboarding and compliance.
Scoping out the project
Ahead of the interns joining, one of our Business Analysts ran a discovery with Change Ahead to establish the requirements and scope out what could be delivered as part of the interns’ six-week summer project. Our core aims were to automate the two most resource-intensive parts of Change Ahead’s work: listing properties, and matching tenants with vacant homes.
Designing and building a cloud-based system
Our user experience design interns worked closely with Change Ahead and landlords to create the user experience, drawing on the charity’s existing branding. Meanwhile, our technical interns built the new system in the Microsoft Azure cloud.
With the user research having established that most landlords had Google accounts, this part of the portal incorporates ‘Sign in with Google’, for ease of use. It then ensures landlords provide a minimum set of information and images, to enable accurate, automated matching. Behind-the-scenes, there’s integration with Azure Maps, to support address-lookup, and to calculate the distance from the tenant’s current location, place of work or other significant locations.
The system then matches empty properties with suitable tenants, so that Change Ahead can connect the two parties and focus on getting the people into their new home.
The interns also got experience of building information dashboards, and of how to design and build systems such as this to comply with data-protection regulations.
The platform will enable Change Ahead to help more than 10x as many people as they currently can to find homes, while the dashboards will give the charity unique insights into the UK’s social housing sector, which can help local authorities and others better support communities.
The new platform, known as ‘Bricks and Hearts’, is due to go live in early 2023. Sheena Patel, CFO at Change Ahead, outlines the difference it will make: “The impact of Bricks and Hearts for Change Ahead, and more importantly, for the thousands of people who need our help every year, will be genuinely transformational.
“The biggest change is in the number of people we’ll be able to support: from helping 20 a month, we’ll be able to assist hundreds. And for each one of these, the process will be so much quicker than it is now, with online viewings available on every property, and automated matching at the click of a button. This platform will also enable us to build a new volunteer-led programme to better support people before, during and after their moves.”
Mohsin concludes by taking a step back: “The dashboards Softwire built will also be incredibly powerful in driving change in this sector. The data will give us a new level of insight into social housing across the UK. Where is new housing most needed? Which local authorities require more resources from government? Being able to see these things will mean we can work collaboratively with local authorities, as well as social house-builders, to help them better serve people and communities.
“None of this would have been possible without Softwire’s generosity and the enthusiasm shown by their interns and supervisors. We’re extremely grateful for this and hope it has been an inspiring experience for all involved, showing how technology can help humanity.”
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