What’s New in Civic Tech: Michigan’s Statewide COVID App

Plus, New York City announces winning projects for its civic tech contest around protecting tenant rights; MasterCard extends its City Possible network; Boston revamps its online housing assistance platform; and more.

Michigan's state capitol building
<a href="https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/lansing-michigan-usa-state-capitol-during-1442969600" target="_blank">Shutterstock/Sean Pavone</a>
Michigan has now joined the growing list of states that have successfully launched a COVID-19 exposure alert app, from Colorado to Delaware.

Dubbed MI COVID Alert, Michigan’s new app works similarly to corresponding apps in other states. The simple goal of it is to alert users who may have been exposed to COVID-19. It’s anonymous, no-cost and voluntary, and it works by asking users to submit positive test results into apps, subsequently sending alerts to anyone who may have been in their proximity.

MI COVID Alert was developed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget. It was piloted in Ingham County as well as on the campus of Michigan State University. 

“COVID cases and deaths are now rising fast,” said Robert Gordon, director of MDHHS, in a press release announcing the statewide rollout. “Using MI COVID Alert on your cellphone is a simple, safe step that everyone can take to protect themselves and their loved ones. It’s free, it’s easy, and it protects your privacy.” 

As in other states, the app has layers to protect anonymity. When someone tests positive for COVID-19, they get a random PIN from a local health department or from the state. 

The list of states that now have these apps is rapidly growing, approaching a statewide notification network. In addition to Delaware and Colorado, the list also includes Virginia, Arizona, New York and New Jersey, among others. The chances of the list becoming broader in the weeks to come is very high.

New York City Names Tenant Protection Contest Winners

New York City has announced the winners of a civic tech competition aimed at strengthening tenant protection rights in Upper Manhattan. 

The winners Heat Seek and JustFix.nyc, with an honorable mention going to 3x3.

Dubbed the NYC[x] Co-Labs Housing Rights Challenge, this contest awarded winners Heat Seek and JustFix.nyc $20,000, as well as an opportunity to test winning solutions aimed at protecting tenant rights as well as preventing tenant harassment, specifically in the Inwood and Washington Heights neighborhoods of Upper Manhattan. On top of that, the two will get exposure to NYC city agencies while getting guidance throughout the monitoring, evaluation, design and implementation of pilot projects. During those pilots, city agencies will evaluate the solutions viability toward meeting the challenges and goals, with an eye toward next steps such as an open solicitation to scale. 

Heat Seek’s project involves the development of temperature sensors with accompanying data analysis that can be used to back up tenants’ heat complaints. As the city’s press release about the contest notes, lack of heat in apartments is the top complaint levied to 311 during the winter months, yet it can be challenging to hold landlords accountable for not turning on heat. 

JustFix.nyc, meanwhile, has proposed an SMS-based tool that tenants can use to connect with JustFix.nyc resources. These resources can enable users to take action against landlord harassment, wrongful eviction or any other housing issues. 

The contest is a collaboration between the NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (MOCTO), the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), NYC Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants (MOPT), and the communities. The premise of the contest saw organizers inviting startups, technologists and anyone else with innovation skills to participate, regardless of geographic location. 

MasterCard Extends City Possible Network to More Cities

Private company MasterCard has extended its City Possible network, which is now working with more than 500 communities in more than 50 countries across the globe. 

The goal of City Possible is to be a partnership framework with a focus on helping to build inclusive and sustainable cities by boosting access to city services, expanding urban mobility solutions and benefiting from data-driven insights within inclusive COVID-19 recovery. 

Surpassing 500 communities marks a significant growth for this program, which started with 16 founding members in late 2018. More information about the City Possible network can be found on the program’s website.

Boston Revamps Online Housing Assistance Platform

Boston has revamped its online housing assistance platform, Metrolist, adding touches such as the ability to custom filter by location, unit size, and AMI percent. 

It’s all been done through a new website for Metrolist. This platform is essentially a database for income-restricted and affordable housing in Boston, as well as in neighboring communities. The idea behind Metrolist is to help those who qualify for that type of housing to search for housing, or to list rental or home ownership units for free.

The goal behind the new website is to make the affordable housing search experience more personalized, streamlining access to the information within.


Civic Tech
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine