Our founding team met through Blue Ridge Labs @ Robin Hood, a social impact incubator that brings together technologists, designers, and communities to address critical problems facing New Yorkers through new and untested solutions. During our research, we heard stories from dozens of New Yorkers who were repeatedly and unlawfully denied access to a home, simply because they received government assistance to pay for rent. Whether they were staying in a family shelter, doubled-up with friends or relatives, or trying to leave a precarious living arrangement, they would call an apartment listing to schedule a viewing and hear the same thing again and again: “No programs,” “The landlord prefers a working professional,” or “We don’t take your type of voucher here."
These practices, officially called "source of income discrimination" and commonly known as "voucher discrimination," have been illegal in NYC since 2008, but still impact thousands of New Yorkers with housing assistance vouchers or subsidies, including CityFHEPS, FHEPS, Section 8, HASA, and more. Often hiding in plain sight, discrimination happens in a split second over the phone, and can be tough to recognize, let alone document. As a result, countless New Yorkers remain homeless or in unsafe housing situations for months, if not years, and those who discriminate routinely benefit from breaking the law.
At Unlock NYC, we work with New Yorkers impacted by housing discrimination to build technology that makes it easy to identify, record, and report unfair treatment. Our users can choose to send their report to a fair housing agency that will take legal action on their behalf, or to add their story to our growing body of data on housing discrimination in New York City. Armed with this knowledge, we collaborate with advocates, organizers, and public agencies to hold discriminators accountable and push for stronger fair housing policies. Our vision is a New York City where everyone can find a safe, healthy, and secure place to call home.
We couldn’t do this work without the many New Yorkers who’ve shared their stories and insights with us through interviews, surveys, participatory design sessions, and more. We’re committed to continue to co-design our tools with New Yorkers and grassroots advocates to ensure that everything we build is useful, relevant, and responds to the priorities of people most affected by housing injustice in our city.
We’re a small and dedicated team that deeply believes in every human’s right to housing and in recognizing the long histories of race, class, and gender-based oppression that have created the housing crisis we face today. We operate through consensus and have a deep commitment to horizontal, distributed decision-making. Collectively, we hold experiences in participatory design, software engineering, political and tenant organizing, and direct experiences of housing discrimination and navigating the housing voucher system..
Ashley Eberhart is a product designer and researcher who uses participatory processes to ensure that community members are the key decision-makers in what challenges we address with technology, and how. She also brings a decade of experience in nonprofit strategy, project management, and impact evaluation to the team, through her work as social entrepreneur and as a former strategy consultant advising major foundations, nonprofits, and academic institutions.
Jessica Valencia is a Brooklyn born and bred mom. She discovered Unlock NYC when she found herself being a victim of source of income discrimination while looking for a home for her family. She has turned her housing journey into her lifelong passion, and now wants to help thousands of homeless New Yorkers find permanent housing. She brings her knack for connecting with fellow New Yorkers and her deep knowledge of the voucher system to the team.
Madeline Blount works as a technologist, researcher, and artist. She has worked as a software engineer, coding and designing immersive websites, chatbots, and communications systems; conducted ethnographic fieldwork on border systems and migration; served as an organizer on political campaigns and movements; and has performed and presented work at festivals, hackathons, and classrooms around the world.
Manon Vergerio is an organizer and a critical urbanist whose work centers on developing research and multimedia tools that put power into the hands of communities most impacted by urban injustice. She brings 7+ years of experience researching and organizing around housing issues in New York, San Francisco, and Paris to the team, including co-founding the NYC chapter of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, a data visualization and storytelling collective documenting the eviction crisis.
At Unlock NYC, we value lived experience as expertise. Our tools are at their best when the people who use them are involved in big decisions from the start. As close collaborators and advisors to the Unlock NYC team, Leadership Collective members help shape the direction of our organization, and make sure that the knowledge, ideas, and vision of New Yorkers directly impacted by housing discrimination are at the heart of our work. Each Leadership Collective member brings a unique perspective and a set of skills to help inform strategic decisions.
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Allauna believes everyone has the right to clean, safe, and adequate housing.
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Single divorcee and mom of six, grandmother of three, and one on the way. Elizabeth has years of experience being on different boards, leadership teams for parents, social committees, or just being on a panel to talk about an important subject she has tons of experience or knowledge about. Always an advocate for her kids, and whatever situation comes her way. If she doesn’t know the answer, she can get help finding it. Her motto: “Ask Questions, Ask for Help, it's out there. But if you don’t ask you’ll never know.”
Going by the moniker Fannielou Diane in the spirit of freedom fighter Fannie Lou Hamer and the groundbreaking and trailblazing Diana Ross. She wants to follow in their footsteps of fighting for the rights of women and especially that of women of color who are disengaged, disenfranchised, and disempowered while looking like Mahogany.
In a city with skyrocketing rents and insufficient affordable housing, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have to rely on government assistance to secure a home, many of whom face long stays in homeless shelters while they search. At Unlock NYC, we know New York City’s housing crisis will not be solved through a single intervention - it will take a mass, people-powered movement to win transformative change. That’s why take our cues from New Yorkers directly impacted by homelessness and from member-led organizations that mobilize for power and transformative change towards the right to housing. We support the #HomelessCantStayHome and VALUE in Housing campaigns, and look forward to continuing to build with our partners, collaborators, and allies in the future.