Connected Home Consortium x LSBU Housing Hackathon

By Jay Saggar - on 05/05/2015

After participating in this jointly organised event, our Connected Homes Consortium Officer Jay Saggar comments on the session.

Connected Home Consortium was set up by Nick Atkin, CEO of Halton Housing Trust, Matthew Fox, ex CEO of Viridian and Matt Leach, CEO of HACT and Richard Sage, Executive Consultant at Mosaic Island to explore how connected technology can change the way housing is delivered.

At Connected Home Consortium we want to understand how new technologies can be used to solve long standing housing Issues. With the housing crisis sustaining pressure on housing waiting lists the issue of illegal subletting has never been a more relevant problem to crack.

Illegal subletting allows tenants to make a significant profit on their social home. Tenants paying social rent illegally lease out their home at the significantly higher market rate and pocket the difference.

Perhaps the most significant impact of illegal subletting is the effect on those left on housing waiting lists. Each illegally sublet home could be provided to someone in need. With the very real shortage of social and affordable rent properties in the UK, Housing providers are determined to prevent reducing this supply further.

In order to get a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective on the problem we teamed up London South Bank University (LSBU) for a housing Hackathon!

Why a Housing Hackathon?

Hackathons are a great way to find new approaches to solving complex problems, illegal subletting has myriad of legal, ethical and community implications and requires a technical solution that navigates all of these. To get the creative juices flowing the LSBU Enterprise scheme provided pizza and a prize for the best solution!

The bright young minds from LSBU’s informatics and electrical engineering departments were tasked with designing a tenant verification system that respects the privacy of residents. The brief stated that the system should help housing providers detect and prevent illegal subletting.

LSBU students were joined by housing and technology professionals to offer their guidance and expertise from their experience in the field. The team included Hema Sadiwala (Tenancy Fraud investigator at Veridian), Raj Shah (Imperial College Hack Space Fellow) and Matthew Fox (Co-founder of CHC). Along with representatives from Moat, Peabody and Halton Housing Trust.

A Solution to illegal subletting?

At the end of the 90 minute hack the students presented their findings to our experts and the panel selected team ACE as the winner!

Team ACE came up with an in home biometric fingerprint reader designed to operate on a raspberry PI. The system asks residents to touch their finger on the device to confirm they are the leaseholder. While not a definitive solution the problem the panel praised the well costed design which was developed in a very short time frame!

Despite lacking details on the important aspects of privacy and acceptability to the resident our panel saw the potential to develop this system further if combined with other smart home technology. Linking the fingerprint verification to the control of a smart lighting and power system in the home could offer residents an easy way to manage energy use. Residents could save money by activating a low energy use profile when leaving the home and the landlord would be provided with regular data regarding how often the lead tenant is in the property.

In just one afternoon in South London we took some important steps forward exploring the technical solution to the issue of subletting, however there are still numerous ethical and practical issues plus privacy concerns to be resolved. The Connected Home Consortium will be running further workshops, seminars and events to work toward a complete solution which combines both a great technological solution with a soundly researched ethical approach.

CHC would like to thank the all the LSBU students that took part and Safia Barikzai (@SafiaBarikzai), Howard Thomas and Amy Pyle for making it all happen.

We would also like to thank our panel of experts: Hema Sadiwala, Raj Shah, Daniel Johnson (@DanielMoatIT), Barry Foster, Calum Stewart and Kenny Kristiansen (@kennyk_hht).

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