AWS Public Sector Blog

Helping local governments address the housing crisis with the cloud

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the US has a shortage of 6.8 million rental homes for low-income renters. Not enough units have been built over the years to meet demand, which has driven up costs, leaving many households vulnerable to housing insecurity, eviction, and homelessness.

Addressing this shortage requires local governments to develop new affordable housing options, but these projects take time to fund and develop. Meanwhile, because high demand continues, landlords increase rents, leaving the lowest income renters in a cycle of housing instability. To address this shortage in the near term, many communities have implemented rent registration and assistance programs to preserve affordability and prevent displacement. Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers and partners are leveraging the cloud to monitor the availability of rental units in real time to support their work.

The benefits of rental registration programs

Rent registries help communities monitor the full availability of affordable rental units in real time by requiring landlords to register and maintain information about their properties with a governmental body and submit key information, like the address of the property and contact information for the landlord.

With this data, states and local government can accurately measure rental affordability and eviction trends by neighborhood, track vacancies over time, and proactively inspect units instead of responding only when a complaint is filed, which is often after living conditions have become unsafe. Registry information helps reduce the number of absentee landlords and ensures direct communication with landlords about inspections, tenant rights, and fair housing laws.

Cloud-based solutions are helping communities streamline the collection of information from landlords about their rental properties and use that data to analyze rents and vacancies, monitor compliance with rent ordinances, and quickly assist landlords and tenants as needed.

Helping with access to healthy and safe housing

The island of Alameda is in the Bay Area just across from San Francisco in California. Once an enclave of affordability in the Bay Area, in the last decade housing costs have increased faster than incomes, and many residents have been displaced. In 2019, in response to community concerns that some landlords were terminating leases with no cause in order to raise rents, the Alameda City Council adopted Ordinance 3250 to limit the grounds for eviction or lease termination, stabilize rent increases, and implement a rent registry.

Alameda needed a new platform to implement the ordinance. “Alameda’s rent program changed significantly,” said Greg Kats, the director of rent programs at the Alameda Housing Authority, who administers the rent registry program. “We were juggling recreating the program in terms of policies procedures and workflows and at the same time creating a new database to track and administer it all. That was a tricky balancing act. We were simultaneously building the database while the council was working on the nuts and bolts of the policies.”

Alameda Housing Authority contracted with AWS Partner Network (APN) Partner 3Di to deploy their Rental Property Registry solution, which needed to make sure that rent prices comply with the new law, and needed to be easy for landlords to use to submit rental property information. Their Rent Registry launched less than five months later in January 2020. The new database allows landlords to quickly and easily register properties, pay annual program fees by credit card, report new tenancies or changes in ownership, and file materials necessary for “no fault” terminations of tenancy. Both tenants and landlords can file petitions for rent-adjustment hearings and requests for staff review. With this solution in place, Alameda has an inventory of current rental units with robust reporting and analytics to support data driven decision making, an engaged landlord community, and a mechanism to help tenants and landlords comply with the new ordinances.

“This solution lets us track rents, so we can determine whether a rent increase is valid or invalid, and we can look out for the tenant with the information we’ve been given. It’s so important to have these projects in place so people have some support, and a safety network. I hear from tenants every day that we made a difference. This is about preserving communities, preventing displacement, and maintaining inclusivity and diversity in the community by making sure everyone in the community has access to healthy and safe housing. Nothing is more important than that,” said Kats.

3Di’s cloud platform, 3Di Engage, uses Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) for each of its customers to provide the proper privacy and isolation needed for compliance. In addition, 3Di’s cloud platform utilizes Amazon controls for security and encryption like AWS Key Management Service (KMS) to manage encryption keys for the storage and databases.

Accelerating tenant-landlord dispute resolutions

Even before a new professional sports stadium brought $4.9 billion in commercial investment to the area, one-third of renting households in Inglewood, California were paying more than half of their income on housing, according to Harvard’s Joint Center For Housing Studies. With rents continuously increasing, leaders enacted Ordinance No. 20-03 to cap rent increases and implement just-cause eviction protections.

When Inglewood first instituted their new Housing Protection Department to monitor and enforce the new rules, employees had to manually investigate tenant claims, collecting information through interviews and waiting for landlords to respond with pertinent information. Yakema Decatur, deputy city manager and housing protection director, turned to 3Di to implement the Rental Property Registry solution and streamline the process. With 3Di’s solution in place, her team simply queries the system to verify details, accelerating resolution. Renters who might have had to wait days to find out whether a threatened eviction is valid get resolution quickly. Evictions they once feared as imminent can be prevented. Plus, this time savings means Decatur’s team has more time to help more people.

“Knowing that this department was established to enforce protections to keep people in their homes and off the street is our motivation as a public servant; and my team has a passion to serve, which makes it just as meaningful.  We are here to serve our residents, both tenants and landlords,” said Decatur.

Using data to improve program effectiveness

While rent inventories and registries bring actionable data that communities can use to protect tenant rights and preserve housing affordability, they can have a disproportionate impact on smaller landlords who may manage only a few units. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 41 percent of all rental units are owned by individual investors. Tailoring landlord engagement programs to meet the needs of both small and corporate landlords is critical, but communities need the inventory first.

Helping both tenants and landlords in San Francisco adapt to the new Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance was top of mind for Robert Collins, executive director at the San Francisco Residential Rent Board, the county office which administers the ordinance. They worked with 3Di to streamline the workflows and processes needed to implement the ordinance. “Treating everyone with respect with a program like this is key. If we make following the laws as simple as possible for tenants and landlords, people are more likely to comply.”

With a very small staff, the Rent Board needed a technology solution quickly, one that could scale to address the sizable number of units across San Francisco. “Something that normally would take a long time to set up from scratch was easier because 3Di has a turnkey solution,” said Collins. With 3Di’s solution, 3Di Engage for Housing, in place, the Rent Board uses the data to evaluate effectiveness and tweak programs in real time to increase effectiveness.

Constituents want easy and frictionless interactions with their government. 3Di Engage helps public sector customers of all sizes transform their processes and deliver better constituent experiences. Learn more about 3Di Engage solutions for housing, citizen engagement, and public safety on AWS Marketplace.

Learn more about how the cloud helps communities prevent and combat homelessness.

Subscribe to the AWS Public Sector Blog newsletter to get the latest in AWS tools, solutions, and innovations from the public sector delivered to your inbox, or contact us.

Jessie Metcalf

Jessie Metcalf

Jessie Metcalf is a strategic programs manager for health and human services at Amazon Web Services (AWS). She leads initiatives that help state and local governments and nonprofits leverage technology to prevent and combat housing instability. By building coalitions and leveraging technology to overcome business and policy obstacles, communities are able to address some of society's most challenging issues such as substance use disorder, recidivism, homelessness, and child safety. She is located in Austin, Texas.