HousingLink’s hAlert: Simplifying house searches


The difficulties in finding low-income housing can seem insurmountable: classified ads have all but moved to Craigslist.org, visiting potential apartments is time consuming, and waiting lists for Section 8 housing open sporadically and often for short periods of time.

Now there’s a new tool to make the search easier. Earlier this month HousingLink, a non-profit organization that helps connect renters with affordable housing­ state-wide, launched a new resource for renters: hAlert, a free system for delivering housing listings via text messages and email, specifically geared toward low-income renters with limited time to search for housing.

By creating an account and entering in search criteria such as number of bedrooms, whether Section 8 vouchers are accepted, and/or if there is handicap accessibility, renters are able to receive notifications to either their email accounts or mobile phones when housing suitable to their needs becomes available.

In addition to the benefit the service offers to renters, social workers searching on behalf of clients will also be saved time, according to Metro HRA Coordinator Washington Nguyen. The service will save “about five hours a week—freeing up 260 more hours they can spend working on clients’ other needs each year,” Nguyen said in a HousingLInk press release.

HousingLink’s president, Sue Speakman-Gomez, told me that one week after hAlert’s launch, more than 50 users had signed up, 60 percent of whom were renters, with the remainder either social workers or landlords. Response to the program so far has been positive, she said, and she expects the base of users to grow over time.

Generally reliant on word of mouth, Speakman-Gomez said she hopes to be able to promote the project more in the upcoming months through e-newsletters and perhaps public service announcements. Otherwise, foundations such as United Way 2-1-1 (formerly First Call for Help), Lutheran Social Services, and Catholic Charities of Minnesota all point prospective renters in the direction of HousingLink.