New App to Help Landlords, Tenants Communicate

11.21.2013 | Given the onslaught of smartphones and the now-ubiquitous app, it was only a matter of time before enterprising organizations adapted 21st Century technology to help solve age-old problems.

We’ve noted this development vis-à-vis local government services (particularly in Boston) and Code for America’s effort to match app developers with local governments. Now comes “Squared Away Chicago”—the Metropolitan Tenant Organization’s new app to ease tenant/landlord relations with better communication.

Scheduled for a mid-November launch, Squared Away Chicago will serve both sides of the rental coin by allowing documentation of and communication about repairs, and letting landlords track tenant inquiries and issues, thus preventing small problems from becoming bigger ones. It will also collect data “to inform policy makers of trends in the rental housing market” and “improve the landlord-tenant relationship through increased communication and accountability.”

Interestingly, MTO’s announcement of the app launch cites a recent Pew study of cell phone internet usage that reveals, along with other findings, that young people (ages 18-29), African Americans and Latinos are the groups most likely to surf the net from smartphones—at respective rates of 85 percent, 74 percent, and 68 percent.

From the Pew study:

Among those who use their phone to go online, six in ten Hispanics and 43% of African Americans are cell-mostly internet users, compared with 27% of whites.

While thousands of renters currently use MTO’s website, MTO was also looking to provide a way for tenants to access their services on their mobile devices since low-income renters may not have access to a computer, but many have access to a phone.”

This is the same reason underlying efforts by New Urban Mechanics to better connect citizens of Boston and Philadelphia with their cities using projects ranging from “Participatory Urbanism” to “Clicks and Bricks” (infrastructure) to education. These apps also aim to make information sharing easier for those whose online access happens via smartphone.

Among the first category are Citizens Connect in Boston, an app allowing residents to report service problems and locations, and submit relevant photos to the relevant agencies. Textizen in Philly allows “text messaging to offer civic feedback for specific city projects and initiatives.”

Infrastructure apps, currently limited to Boston, include Street Bump, which uses a participating resident’s phone’s accelerometer and GPS locator to feed real-time data about streets and smoothness of the ride as they drive: “Bumps are uploaded to the server for analysis. Likely road problems are submitted to the City via Open311 so they get fixed (e.g. potholes) or classified as known obstacles (e.g. speed bumps).” Street Bump also just won a 2013 Digital Government Achievement Award.

Education-related apps are also currently limited to Boston, but include Discover BPS (currently in its beta form, here), which “helps parents navigate the options of public schools available to their children”; and Where’s My School Bus?, a tracker for your kid’s school bus.

I suspect initiatives like these matter because they strengthen bonds between citizens and their local governments. In that regard, more power to ‘em.

Photo / Eric Allix Rogers

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