We have a new VISTA volunteer at the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service and I am once again reminded how VISTAs make good things happen for the poor, especially in housing.
Ryan is a summer VISTA who was assigned to us through a VISTA program operated by United Cerebral Palsy of Texas. His job is to help rebuild the on-line information and referral web site we call the Texas Housing Counselor.
I’ll blog all the details later but the short story is that another former VISTA set up this amazing web site for us a number of years ago. This web site got people that were looking for housing to enter some basic info then it told them what type of subsidized housing program they qualified for, made recommendations about where to start looking and then gave them a list of subsidized housing, organized by program in the city where they wanted to live.
If you know much about housing you can appreciate just how useful this type of help can be when confronted with the maze of different subsidized housing programs.
Building our Texas Housing Counselor web site the first time was a huge effort. Rebuilding it is also huge. One of the biggest tasks is checking the accuracy of several databases of subsidized housing maintained by various government agencies and then correcting or updating the data before we start providing it to people through the web site.
When I say this is a huge task, I mean it is a HUGE task,
- 846 HUD subsidized apartment developments in Texas,
- 751 US Department of Agriculture rural rental housing developments,
- 416 Texas public housing authorities,
- 1,830 Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs subsidized apartment developments, and there are more lists to come.
That is 3,843 apartment developments and counting.
For each development Ryan patiently checks their address in the database against listings from other sources on the Internet and calls the development to confirm critical information. This is why I say VISTAs do amazing things. He does this a solid eight hours a day and seldom takes a break. He even manages to be civil to the sometimes rude and uncooperative people on the other end of the phone.
Ryan is documenting data on the accuracy of the databases maintained by the various government agencies. Once we finish this process we will be publishing some results on the make up of the state’s subsidized housing inventory and the data error rate we found.
Next Ryan is on to sorting through all the regulations for each of the subsidized housing programs and translating these regulations into language that real people can understand. It’s another big job, but he has pr oven himself capable and dedicated, in the best tradition of VISTA.