Online rental housing app helps fire victims relocate

Californians displaced by destructive wildfires can find new quarters faster with the help of an online housing locater built by the Housing and Urban Development Department following the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

The National Housing Locator is a searchable online clearinghouse of rental housing nationwide, the department said. The locator combines vacant sales and rental housing data from federal housing resources, as well as three widely used commercial apartment data services. Currently, there are more than 15,000 units available in the Southern California, Nevada and Arizona areas, HUD said.

Last week, HUD field office staffers were working at housing assistance points at some of the shelters where displaced resident camped out. The department's disaster recovery teams worked in selected shelters to help fire evacuees find available rental accommodations much more quickly via the online service, HUD said.

The data service consolidates housing information from several sources, including SocialServ.Com, Apartments.Com, HomeSales.Gov, Rentlinx.Com and other sites, a HUD statement said.

Citizant, the vendor that created the housing locator, used a Web 2.0 approach and rapid application development to provide the first NHL system for less than $1 million, the company said.

"The initial development and deployment was within 45 days for the first release," a Citizant spokesperson said in response to e-mail questions. "We started developing NHL in December 2006 and launched the first release before the end of January 2007."

The department has gradually upgraded the locator since then. It added a geospatial-search capability in March and in June added case management and customer service modules to track and manage housing aid and other emergency assistance, such as the Agriculture Department's Food Stamp program.

Last month Citizant rolled out an additional release that included all planned features, the company said.

' Mary Mosquera contributed to this story.

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