HousingWorks Timeline
First-Ever Achievements

Timeline, Firsts, and Development History

TIMELINE: View the HousingWorks.net history of development, milestones, and first-ever achievements as a timeline.

The timeline, a large graphic, contains interactive pop-ups providing details about many of the milestones.
It is best viewed online, but does print cleanly onto four or five sheets of letter-size paper.
  • 1999: The HousingWorks model is a first-ever symbiotic ecosystem linking all low-income housing groups who were historically locked in opposition but now can work collaboratively without needing to draw up impossible agreements.

  • 2002: First comprehensive listing of all 40-plus types of low income housing in one internet database.

  • 2003: MA Legistlative Task Force affirms the HousingWorks model in a report stating that "such a model would save $1M even during implementation.

  • 2003: HousingWorks launches a pilot HMIS program that becomes the first in the country to achieve 100% reporting - in one of the poorest CoCs in New England (Lawrence). Local HUD officials honor the achievement.

  • 2006: HousingWorks presents the model, including its first ever access PDF applications, at the Washington DC HUD Office of Fair Housing - and receives a standing ovation.

  • 2016: HousingWorks launches first-ever unduplicated counts of housing seekers in Boston area, and presents them at the Season Opener of the Mass Coalition for the Homeless event.

  • 2018: HousingWorks is invited to provide testimony before the Boston City Council on 'averate and worst waitlist times' as well as providing a profile of numbers of fulltime employed but homeless households in the Boston area.

  • 2019: HousingWorks achieves a new milestone: more than 800 housing advocates are signed up for our services.

  • 2019: HousingWorks publishes first-ever report showing trends of last four-years for housing seekers and waitlist times.

  • 2020: HousingWorks proves a key player in the Boston City Rental Voucher Coalition, where a five-year push to convince Boston to provide Rental Vouchers results in the Mayor proudly supporting this "second in the nation" initiative.
HISTORY: The beginning:
John LaBella and Ken Duncan, recipients of A.G. Scott Harshbarger/MGLPC award for www.Infoweb.org, interview more than a thousand stakeholders across MA in order to develop a comprehensive Internet-Based suite of tools for all sectors of the (profoundly broken) Low-Income Housing world.

The model:
The HousingWorks.net service operates much like a ecosystem:
  • one in which all members act symbiotically
  • one in which Equal Access to housing opportunities becomes a reality instead of a goal
  • one in which new features and practices do not cause system upheaval
  • one where data becomes a side effect of increased service delivery (and not the other way around, as we see with the HMIS model)
  • and, finally, one in which both service delivery and savings of time and money increase at the exact same moment.
To better understand why our Ecosystem model has proven so effective, it helps to first conceptualize the Low-Income Housing World in this way:

The important lesson that few competitors seem to understand:
Having proven the viability and safety of our approach, HousingWorks sees many copycat programs emerging. The main difference between these copycats and our original is that we have demonstrated that services targeting only one of the groups listed above ends up erecting obstacles, whose damage far exceeds any benefit provided: in our model, any task performed by anyone in any group needed to also provide a solution or a savings to anyone else in the same world - AND, those solutions and savings need to present themselves to the beneficiaries only when needed, even if invisible.
The two unexpected outcomes post-launch:
  1. ONE: The original model was to provide a free housing search and a free centralized waitlist service to the stakeholders represented by the first two large circles, above - and the system would pay for itself by selling the data to the third and fourth circles: city, county, state or federal agencies, all of whom desperately needed that data to plan both responsibly and responsively. (The sub-circle showing political advocacy groups was in a gray area at this time.) However, as a non-profit, the HousingWorks model was so ahead of its time that there were literally ZERO grants available for what we had built. Grants were theoretically avaiable if HWs agreed to limit the search/apply tool to serving a specific population, for example: elders, or veterans, or persons with AIDS, or persons with disabilities, or communities with language barriers, etc. In vain we pointed out that a single person might be all those things, and therefore our service needed to help ALL low-income populations - and also that government groups were in great need of the data we alone could provide across the 40-plus types of low income housing. Being unable to secure any non-profitfunding, we were forced to adopt a mirror image our company model; in 2003, we became a for-profit that provided both free access to all housing seekers, plus a two tier level of service to housing advocates and landlords: a free- and a for-fee level of service; And, we distributed the data free of charge to any agency that requested it. (The free services we provide remain unparallelled in time savings and Fair Housing access, and reduce work for all applicants, all housing advocates and all low-income housing providers; at the same time, the paid level of the same services saves up to 40 hours per month for participating housing advocates, and saves many thousands of dollars for participating landlords. Twenty years later, the paid level seems to attracts advocates and landlords with particularly high client/applicant loads.)

  2. TWO: Launching an Ecosystem project necessarily threatens silos, which are popular in government. To then try to enlist the cooperation of agencies that maintain silos is a tricky thing.

    Over the years, HousingWorks was made aware of rumors whose source cannot be located - which made combatting them problematic. We will simply state the facts here:

    Building the comprehensive inventory: To accomplish this, nothing was stolen: HousingWorks achieved this by using an extensive pile of (mostly) print resources from six New England state; Later, a few online inventories were also searched, and continue to be searched, including the Boston Metro List, the HUD website, the MassHousing White Book, MassAccess, and the Real Estate listings for local newpapers. All such information is public domain and therefore can't be stolen.

    At present, there are now a number of online services that publish some or all aspects of the same low-income housing in Massachusetts, among them: www.apartments.com, publichousing.com, affordablehousingonline.com, zillow.com, Boston's metrolist, www.section8listmass.org, section-8-housing.org, eligiblity.com, www.gosection8.com, and of course massaccesshousing registry.org.

    The main features that set HWs apart from these services are:
    • 1. that our systems lets applicants locate and apply to all desired options in far fewer hours;
    • 2. that landlords who use our waitlist tools save time and money, AND,
    • 3. that HousingWorks publishes data comparing supply and demand regardless of whether that data makes existing government housing policies look good or bad.)

    System Security: The HW systems' security has never been compromised. When discussing security, there are always and only two aspects: the computer databases themselves, and the way staff are trained to never share client information. For exampline, a hospital may maintain secure computer records that can be hacked - and that is called a breach of the system, but if hospital staff then discuss a particular client in the elevator, that is called a breach of office practice.

    The Housingworks system has never been breached, and to ensure the second type of security is also strong, documented staff training occurs regularly.