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Scholars Bill Rohe, left, and Michael Webb

Bill Rohe has 35 years of experience researching affordable housing; Michael Webb has worked with community organizations and led evaluations for more than 10 years. They have now teamed up with local housing leaders to develop a new tool to help people find homes in better neighborhoods.

The tool is a web app called the Housing Opportunity Finder, which was chosen for a UNC-Chapel Hill C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities. The award supports the application of humanities and/or social sciences research to real-world challenges outside the University.

“We’re really hoping to leverage the Harvey Award funding to develop the best possible product,” Rohe said. “Sheryl Waddell and Judith Cone of Innovate Carolina have been great, especially in helping us think through the entrepreneurial side of the project. Hopefully, after our release of the web app, it can be replicated by other communities across the country.”

Developed to assist low-income families, including those who qualify for the federal government’s Housing Choice Voucher program, the Housing Opportunity Finder will compile affordable listings in North Carolina’s Durham and Orange counties. It will then prioritize listings that are located in “high-opportunity” neighborhoods, defined as having low crime, good schools, job opportunities and other attributes that support human development.

Nationwide, 2.2 million families with vouchers struggle to find affordable housing, especially in high-opportunity neighborhoods. In Durham County, the average voucher-qualified family spends 120 days searching for housing, and nearly a third of the vouchers expire before the families can find a home. Plus, only 5% of voucher families live in high-opportunity areas, while 18% of all affordable units are in those areas.

The app is expected to launch next summer.  Learn more


Written by Andy Berner
CURS Public Communications Specialist

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