Movesmart.org pushes for more transparency for affordable housing and transportation

About a year ago, former Yo editor Patrick Rollens sat down to chat with Justin Massa, the executive director of MoveSmart.org, a start-up non-profit Web site that will provide information about transportation, affordability and racial integration to prospective homebuyers and renters. The site hasn’t launched yet, but with the formation of a new housing and transportation task force at the federal level, Massa sees an opening for his cause.

On Tuesday, Massa wrote a lengthy critique of the “Sustainable Communities Initiative,” a joint task force between the departments of Transportation (DOT) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The task force encourages “smarter planning, expanding the definition of affordability, and researching the livability of communities,” Massa writes, but he says it fails to address open government data on the costs of housing and transportation and the impact of racial and economic segregation – two areas that Movesmart.org intends to address.

For the average housing seeker looking for a more affordable neighborhood, [the existing Web-based resources on the combined cost of housing and transportation] are not quite useful. Rather than allowing the housing seeker to enter their own address, their work address, and household income to search for affordable neighborhoods, they instead provide the average transportation time and cost for the current residents of a given geographic area. Interesting, but not particularly helpful.

Absent a national, standardized, up-to-date, and free database that would enable searching and sorting of neighborhoods based on commute time and cost to and from a fixed (work) address, Web applications seeking to empower housing seekers to make smarter decisions are left to pay high fees and/or operate subject to the terms of service of private companies, all to access what is public data.

Massa makes the case for creating a free, one-stop resource that would enable homebuyers and renters to make informed decisions when searching for a new home. Movesmart.org is still in a beta stage, but according to a recent release from Massa, they are “in the midst of building an alpha version of the site, and have secured data sharing commitments from a number of area research institutions and non-profits.”

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