By: Ann Field
April 14, 2019 —
When Caroline Caselli was a social worker in San Francisco working with homeless families not long ago, she noticed something odd. “They were getting pulled off the affordable housing list much more often than people who were already in stable housing,” she says. What she discovered was that, while property managers were required to contact people on that all-important list every year, those individuals who didn’t respond were simply removed from the roster.
Of course, that made it really hard for homeless people, who generally lacked a way of receiving those notifications. “It was crazy,” says Caselli. Also many property managers didn’t want to accept online applications, to avoid potential additional compliance steps.
With all that in mind, in 2014 Caselli started Haven Connect, which is now based in Austin, to make it easier for property managers to communicate with affordable housing applicants, including those who are and aren’t homeless, and for applicants to update their information online. (She left her social work duties the next year to run the company full-time).
Recently, Haven graduated from the first class of Techstars Impact Accelerator. That’s Techstar’s new accelerator for social enterprise startups. And it closed on a $2.4 million seed round led by Deciens Capital, which Caselli will use to upgrade the platform and expand to more areas. The company also has raised financing through the Future Cities Accelerator, as well as Techstars.
Actually, the first thing Caselli did to get the ball rolling was to lobby the California legislature to allow e-signatures on housing applications, so that applicants could sign up online. Right after that, she started Haven and began building software allowing property managers to communicate quickly with housing applicants over the 2 to 10 years it took for them to be given housing. While the platform doesn’t do away with snail mail entirely, it lets managers send applicants emails and text messages, making the process of updating contact information a lot easier. Many homeless and low-income people have access to the Internet through a phone, a library or a case manager, according to Caselli.
Next step is to upgrade the platform, fully automating the process, so property managers don’t have to lift a finger to get the ball rolling. “They won’t have to do anything,” says Caselli.
The platform is operating in four states—California, New York, Texas and Massachusetts—with about 5,400 apartments. The plan is to expend to 30,000 units by the end of the year. According to Caselli, the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that property managers keep a waiting list of affordable housing applicants, so most of them do.
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