HousingLink Launches Map-based Search
By Mike Dolbow and Nancy Rader, News Editors
Last November, Minneapolis non-profit HousingLink launched a new map-based property search on their home page, complementing a text-based search function that has been online since 2008. By all indications, the new Map Search is a tremendous addition to the web site’s functionality, providing more options for HousingLink’s users, who are often looking for affordable housing in a certain neighborhood or area.
Instead of relying on purely text for location (Figure 1), where users select cities or counties of choice, the interactive map (Figure 2) allows a user to visualize available properties in their desired neighborhood that meet their other search criteria. Both subsidized housing and market-rate housing vacancies are listed, and once the search is narrowed down, the user can click on map markers for an address, a quick property summary and a link to more information. Markers are displayed on top of a Google Maps basemap in a classic “mashup” implementation that is familiar to many users.
Figre 1: Old text-based search interface
“The thing that’s great about a Map Search is that it is such a perfect foundation for all the other considerations a renter might consider when looking for a new place to live” says Dan Hylton, HousingLink’s Research Manager.
In order to fully build the new site’s features and to upgrade the underlying address database, HousingLink had to solicit some customizations and implement some new standards. The map markers were customized in order to allow display of multiple vacancy listings at a single property and to prevent the map from automatically repositioning when a user clicks on it. The address database was upgraded by requiring landlords to submit complete addresses rather than just a city name. These addresses are pushed through a Yahoo! geocoder nightly to obtain latitude and longitude coordinates and standardized addresses, which helps resolve address duplicates and results in a cleaner database.
Figure 2: New map-based search interface
The result is a new site with much more functionality than the previous search interface. Hylton envisions a future where bike and bus routes, elementary schools, or employment opportunities could be further integrated into Map Search. “It boggles the mind - but in a pleasing way.”
Born out of a fair housing lawsuit a decade and a half ago, HousingLink offers resources to explain subsidized housing programs, connect with community news and resources, and to help understand local housing trends through regular reporting and research. According to Hylton, the nonprofit’s listings service has a combination of landlord-entered vacancy listings and waiting list openings for subsidized housing that is unparalleled in Minnesota. Social service providers and renters turn to the HousingLink website to find up-to-date affordable housing opportunities to the tune of 30,000 visits a month.
For more information, contact Dan Hylton at firstname.lastname@example.org, 612-522-2500 ext. 222. Dan is Research Manager for HousingLink, and Avonelle Lovhaug (email@example.com; www.codepoetrysoftware.com) was the developer for Map Search.