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Newark, N.J., Takes the Mystery Out of Affordable Housing

Mayor Ras J. Baraka has announced the launch of a website meant to help residents locate affordable housing options. The tool is part of the administration’s long-term goals related to equity in the city.

Graphic features grey houses with one house that has a red roof in the center under a magnifying glass.
Residents of Newark, N.J., now have increased access to information about affordable housing opportunities through a recently launched website.

The tool is part of a broader effort by Mayor Ras J. Baraka’s administration to prioritize affordable housing. In 2021, he announced five-year affordable housing goals as part of an equitable recovery; one of these goals was to create a one-stop portal that would be updated in real time with the affordable housing options available.

The lack of this sort of resource was something that Baraka was looking to address, as Deputy Mayor Allison Ladd explained. Previously, residents had to research affordable housing on their own or come to City Hall for assistance from a housing customer service adviser.

The new platform allows residents simplified access to information on housing for rent or purchase, which can be filtered by neighborhood, cost, bedrooms, proximity to public transit and more.

“[Baraka] knew he wanted to have a simple, data-driven platform that everyone could go to and have a single point on the web,” Ladd said, adding that the data gathered through the portal will enable the city to better understand and address housing-related issues and shape future programs through an equity lens.

The housing locator search tool,, was launched last month. It was created through a collaborative relationship between the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) and Newark’s Department of Economic and Housing Development. The first year of funding for the portal’s operations was provided by the Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Ballmer Group through Results for America.

Elizabeth Bennett, BIT principal adviser, said that the team’s role was to consider design in the early stages, posing questions about how to make the site more user-friendly and make the language inclusive.

Jerrah Crowder, assistant director of the Department of Economic and Housing Development (DEHD), formerly managed DEHD’s Office of Affordability and Sustainable Housing (OASH) and has been closely involved in the development of the housing locator tool.

The city has personnel within the OASH dedicated to maintaining relationships with housing providers to keep the information in the tool up to date, Crowder explained.

The tool makes data on housing opportunities available from a variety of sources, including the Newark Housing Authority, property owners, property managers and more. While personnel will ultimately be responsible for keeping portal information up to date, housing providers also have the ability to input information directly.

The city takes a comprehensive approach to defining affordability, because as Crowder put it, “Affordability means affordable for residents at every income.” He explained that the city uses the area median income and definitions of cost-burdened residents who spend half or more of their income on housing to make determinations of what properties may be considered. In addition, the city uses a regional calculation to help target residents on the lower income end.

The community’s insight was crucial in the tool’s creation, as the feedback of both residents and community-based organizations was taken into consideration during a beta phase of the portal that lasted approximately six weeks.

This process included a standard set of questions and feedback solicited from a pool of residents that are diverse in areas like age and technology skill level. The city has also emphasized marketing and outreach to make residents aware that the resource is available, Ladd said, noting a mutually beneficial relationship that will not only help residents get affordable housing, but will also help property owners and developers to lease properties faster.

Zachary Markovits, vice president and local practice lead at Results for America, said that the portal’s impact will help encourage more innovation in housing. He hopes it will lead other communities to borrow best practices to create this type of resource for their own community — especially as federal funding enables communities to pilot new ideas.

“I think that this Newark product is an example of how philanthropic, municipal, local community partnerships can work together to make real change,” said Markovits.

In addition to the housing locator tool, the Newark Housing Tracker is a separate tool the city has created to make information on the city’s housing goals and progress towards those goals more visible for residents.

“It’s a simple way to see how we’re doing,” Crowder stated. “That’s a way for us to be transparent and accountable and to let folks know how we’re doing against those ambitious goals that Mayor Baraka set.”
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.