Meet the Housing Open Data Challenge Champion
Meet Alex Hilton, Director of Generation Rent, and Challenge Champion for the Housing Open Data Challenge.
Tell us a bit about your background and why you’re our new Housing Challenge Champion.
I’m the Director of the Generation Rent campaign, an organisation that aims to get a better deal for Britain’s ten million private renters. The link between social renting and private renting is close, with councils often moving people into poor quality private sector rentals. Tenants all too often get a raw deal at the hands of landlords and letting agents.
The Housing Open Data Challenge is a fantastic way to use the creativity and experience of the housing sector and the data community to deliver real change for people who deserve a better deal.
What problem is the Housing Open Data Challenge trying to solve?
The Housing Challenge asks how open data can be used to help tenants get the best out of renting – and we want entrants to think creatively about what that means. This covers both those in the social and private rented sector – those renting in council accommodation as well as from private landlords. The major issues all renters face include conditions and maintenance, affordability and mobility and security of tenure. We think teams will have a lot of scope for some truly innovative and impactful ideas and we’ll help them understand the issues better by sharing user research.
What do you think are the main issues for renters at the moment?
The challenge is all about helping people with their choices and leveraging consumer power. On affordability, it may be there are ways of helping people to manage the costs of renting. On conditions and maintenance, it’s all about finding a social or private landlord who works well for you and your lifestyle. In terms of mobility, we need a rental market that enables people to move when there is a job opportunity rather than standing in their way.
Why is the issue of renting so important to you?
I grew up in London and I’m now in my late 30s and I have absolutely no chance of buying a home here in my home town. Back in the day, working hard was the way to get ahead in life, but since successive governments have treated houses as a way to get rich, that has changed; ordinary people are struggling just to pay rent and getting less for their money each year.
We want a sustainable housing market that supports people’s ambitions rather than crushing them.
How can open data be used to improve life for tenants?
The Open Data Institute has pulled together a list of relevant data for this Challenge so that it’s easier for potential participants to see what data is available. Private renting is in need of a lot of changes but one easy thing to do is equip renters with better knowledge about the market, using data that is already out there. That will give them more confidence – for example if they negotiate a rent rise or look for a new home. In the social rented sector, there is slightly more open data available and it will be great to see if people can use it to develop products tackling issues such as affordability etc.
What sort of tool/solution would you most like to see developed as part of the competition?
As the challenge lead I’m not allowed to enter, which means I’ll be giving away my ideas to anyone who wants them. I’d be interested in seeing tools for consumers to choose the best landlords, for councils to help them act against bad landlords and for social tenants to have better relations with their housing provider. I would like to see teams from banks enter to come up with new financial products that help people get into home ownership who are currently excluded – or indeed to help them build their own homes or consider shared ownership options. I’d also like to see a project that would help people to minimise the costs and the risks when they’re moving home as renters.
What do you hope the Housing Open Data Challenge will achieve?
The Challenge is a fantastic way of bringing together housing and data experts and getting them thinking about a difficult social issue. By the end I want to see an app that enables me, my neighbours and the rest of the country’s renters to feel in control of our housing situations.