3 min read

Digital Tools for Housing Justice

A redbrick tower block against a blue cloudy sky

It has never been more important to organise as movements working to build a better world. From local community action to national and global coordination, shifts are needed at every scale. As such, digital tools have an important role to play. Here at Digital Commons, this is why we exist - to build mapping and data tools that support movements to thrive. For our next project, we’re setting off on an open and participatory exploration of whether digital tools could support a more collaborative housing justice movement in the UK, funded by Oak Foundation.

The movement is very much alive and kicking. It’s not a good thing that it has to be - safe and accessible housing should be a given. But with so many across the UK being actively denied that, it’s energising that there is a huge movement of people in our neighbourhoods and cities, fighting the good fight. Folks in the UK’s housing justice movement today build on a rich and powerful history of organising too, from the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association, to the Brixton Black Women’s Group, to the Easthall Residents Association.

As with many movements, data has proven a useful tool for organising and demanding change for housing justice. That said, the housing system in the UK is stupidly complex. Finding the right data and then accessing and piecing together that data together in a way that is useful to organising for the housing justice movement is not a task that many would look forward to (unless you’re us). It requires time, data literacy and patience.

There are a handful of examples of data being mobilised into digital tools that are helping to create some straight lines in the gigantic scribble that is today’s housing system. One of my favourites is Evictorbook, by the US-based Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. These great people took on the very daunting task of connecting up publicly accessible data on corporate landlords, shell companies and eviction patterns, to  convert otherwise fragmented and impossible to follow data into a powerful tool for multi-building organising in San Francisco and Oakland.

Closer to home, Common Knowledge have been working with the London Renters Union to develop a digital tool to help make their petitioning campaign easy to be involved in and efficient for them to manage. Our very own Land Explorer maps land ownership data, to help identify sites for community-based development projects, which could include things like community-led housing. Folks like WeCanMake and Open Systems Lab are developing alternatives to house building that puts decision making and construction back into the hands of communities.

Examples like these are really powerful, but they depend on three things: time and resources, a movement-led need and the right type of data being to hand. We have a little of the first, we’d like to work with you on the second, and well we’ll just have to wait and see about the third.  This work is all about understanding if digital tools can support the housing movement, how they might do so, and what needs to be true for a digital tool to be useful, accessible and rooted in solidarity. And whilst yes, our thing is community tech, we’re very open to the idea that digital tools might not be the right answer, or that we might not be exactly the right people.

We’re hoping to kick things off with a collaborative mapping process of the different actors in the UK’s housing movement, so we’d love for you to say hello and let us know what you’re up to. You can say hello via this form. We’re hoping to pull together and share the start of a map of the interconnected issues, people and groups within the housing justice movement (building some great work from NEON).

In the new year, we’ll be hosting a series of workshops to bring together different people in the movement. We really hope you’ll roll through so we can have some great conversations together. If you'd like to find out more about the workshops and sign up to take part as a housing activist or organiser, you can do so a bit.ly/h0using.

If you want to chat about the research or the workshops a bit more,  email housingdata@digitalcommons.coop or follow us on @DigiCommonsCoop. Otherwise, thanks for stopping by 👋🏽

Samanthi is a freelance researcher who works on housing, social-spatial inequalities and the neighbourhood as a collective for change. As a young Londoner and through Toynbee Hall, she is a member of the Mayor of London’s Housing Panel. Get in touch with her by emailing housingdata@digitalcommons.coop or following her on Twitter @issamanthi.