AWS Public Sector Blog

Using the cloud to improve access to social housing, rental assistance, and other social services

Social housing

Demand for housing continues to increase, with demand outweighing supply. Nonprofits, including social housing organizations, work towards the mission of providing access to safe and affordable housing, rental assistance, and social services to low-income individuals and families in need. These organizations also play a critical role in supporting the elderly and vulnerable. And with homelessness projected to increase by 40-45 percent this year in the United States, these services are more in demand than ever.

The cloud can help nonprofits that serve those in need while also driving innovation, saving costs, and speeding delivery of services. Learn how these Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers and partners are modernizing the way that mission-driven organizations provide housing assistance.

Connecting people with affordable housing

In the United Kingdom, around nine million people live in social housing. AWS Partner Network (APN) Partner Incline-IT works with social housing organizations Arches Housing and Housing Plus Group to connect those in need with affordable housing.

Arches Housing highlighted several workloads at risk due to a reliance on staff and external partners to deliver hardware support for their on-premises infrastructure. They used Incline-IT to migrate these workloads to AWS in three weeks with no effect on critical services. This was important as staff began working remotely full time due to COVID-19. Arches was able to continue to operate effectively and deliver services to their most vulnerable customers at the height of the pandemic.

Housing Plus Group used the cloud to enable a more agile working strategy. Housing Plus Group has over 800 staff across 45 sites with a significant care and support operation that helps the elderly and others with disabilities or health conditions live independent and fulfilling lives. The organization requires strong network connectivity and a flexible infrastructure to deliver such services to customers and provide access to the applications staff need to operate effectively.

“Given that most advice was ‘Housing Management Software does not work on the cloud,’” said David Mason, technical director at Incline-IT, “we deployed a new software-defined networking in a wide area network (SD-WAN) and created a staggered migration path for the applications. We also created 400 Amazon WorkSpaces to replace a legacy Citrix farm. These were set up as pay as you go and scale up and down as required to optimize costs.”

Housing Plus Group is now realizing the benefits of being fully cloud-enabled. “We devised a clear IT and digital strategy but needed the right services and partners to enable the delivery of it,” said Andrew Dale, director of IT at Housing Plus Group. “Working in partnership with Incline-IT and AWS enabled us to realize our strategy and allow IT to become an enabler of change. This allows us to focus more on the business and innovate with new technologies such as analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) that will help us realize efficiencies and drive service improvement to our core customers.”

Helping deliver financial assistance for rent and utilities

In California, the Orange County United Way worked with AWS to build a mobile app that connects those in need with emergency funds for rental and utility payments. The app, AssistOC, was built in response to the needs of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the nonprofit’s Homelessness Prevention Program, the app has enabled Orange County United Way to connect 5,066 families with funds. And by using the cloud, the nonprofit staff was able to quickly connect those in need faster and more efficiently.

“We’re so grateful for this unique and cutting-edge collaboration with AWS,” said Susan B. Parks, president and chief executive officer of Orange County United Way. “There are many individuals and families who have lost their jobs or now have reduced income due to COVID-19 and they could really benefit from financial assistance to make monthly rent and utility payments. With the AssistOC app built on AWS, eligible individuals have been able to more easily and quickly apply for emergency funds.”

In Arizona, Wildfire, a state association for Community Action Agencies, worked with Prefix Health Technologies (Prefix), an APN Partner, to develop a cloud-based solution for utility and rental assistance. The solution supported the distribution of $20 million Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. The solution uses AWS services such as Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC), Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS), AWS Lambda, and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). The solution is available for other organizations to leverage.

Delivering more customer-centric housing services

In New York City (NYC), nonprofit Streetlives uses technology to host GoGetta, a community-built web app for people who are homeless, communities considered vulnerable, and social service providers. The mobile website enables people who are homeless or in poverty to easily locate up to date, verified, NYC social service information during the pandemic, and will soon enable users to find, rate, and recommend social services throughout the city.

Piloting feedback, the nonprofit gathered comment data from service users at the City’s largest emergency food providers and used Amazon Comprehend, a natural language processing service, to run sentiment analysis on all comments. Analysis of the data helped dispel a common apprehension around soliciting customer feedback for social services: 85 percent of comments were positive and less than five percent were negative.

Streetlives intends to use services like Amazon Lex, Amazon Polly, and Amazon Transcribe to enable users to interact with applications through voice instead of text. Instead of having to collect information about a user’s unique needs and complex eligibility parameters through a rigid, structured series of online forms, users will be able to describe their circumstances in their own words, verbally. This makes the platform more inclusive for people with low literacy and also creates a more expressive experience for all users.

Learn more about AWS for nonprofits and government and read other stories about how the cloud can be used to fight homelessness.