CID project inspires home sharing in Northwestern Michigan

The Homeshare logo is part of the toolkit developed by UMSI students.

Two northern Michigan cities have a new tool to help address the shortage of affordable housing, thanks to a group of students at the University of Michigan School of Information.

A project developed by students in UMSI’s Citizen Interaction Design (CID) course in Fall 2016 to address housing concerns in Northwest Michigan has been adopted in the cities of Charlevoix and Traverse City. The civic technology project was led by Arlene Anvitha, Liz Gadelha, Sina Haghani, Ishita Prasad and CID in partnership with Networks Northwest.

The project was part of Michigan Engaging Community through the Classroom (MECC), an interdisciplinary University of Michigan initiative. MECC had an affordable housing project in Traverse City at the time, and introduced the CID students to Networks Northwest. The students created a free digital toolkit comprised of a website template, visual assets, application forms, instructional files, case studies, and a Google Drive account. Their toolkit was utilized in making a homesharing website for the Traverse City area.

In August 2017, after the city of Charlevoix passed an ordinance allowing single-room rentals, Charlevoix Main Street also created a homesharing site based on the template from the students’ toolkit. Charlevoix Main Street is a volunteer program working to strengthen the economic vitality of the downtown business district. For some time, housing in Charlevoix has been scarce, and limited space deters newcomers from becoming members of the community.

According to the site, the program benefits renters, landlords and local businesses alike. It uses tenant profiles to match homeowners with people looking for short-term rentals. Home seekers may be college students, newly divorced persons, seniors, travelling or recently relocated professionals, or anyone in need of low cost housing. Home providers are often people living in a house with extra space, or those who feel they can’t maintain a household alone. The site does not include background or reference checks, but allows renters and landlords to find one another and arrange agreements.

Liz Gadelha, one of the creators of the homeshare project, says “[Our project] was developed through a lot of consultation and collaboration, which reflects the nature of homeshare programs themselves. I think its implementation is also largely due to support from our community partner, which underscores the importance of putting community needs first when developing potential solutions.”

Charlevoix Main Street executive director Lindsey Dotson believes housing scarcity isn’t confined to Charlevoix. Northwest Michigan has a shortage of affordable housing, she says, and rather than depend on increased housing development, homeshare programs make use of available housing with sharing incentives such as financial assistance, help with chores, or companionship.

Homeshare programs are being adopted by organizations across Northwest Michigan, and are an example of how UMSI and CID students are making a difference by using information to affect positive change in their communities.

A full list of the Jackson and Ferndale CID projects is available on the Citizen Interaction Design page of the UMSI website.

Posted October 24, 2017