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Morehouse College Students Win Zillow’s HBCU Hackathon with App That Flags Looming Affordability Challenges for Renters

SEATTLE – Zillow’s HBCU Housing Hackathon, which drew more than 150 students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), awarded top prizes to teams that innovated to help at-risk renters and struggling first-time home buyers.

The top three finishers in the hackathon, created in collaboration with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) Black Tech Ventures (BTV) and Amplify 4 Good, won over the judges with projects that offer solutions to barriers in the housing journey.

A team of four Morehouse College students won first place and $20,000 for its program that uses machine learning to predict increases in rent and utility costs at a particular address over time, offering renters early warning about looming affordability challenges. Zillow also will donate $25,000 to Morehouse College’s computer science program as part of the first-place prize.

“It’s awesome to conceptualize a project that could help a lot of people and not only win this hackathon and receive prizes that are great for my team, but also help earn a donation for our college,” said Paul Lockett, member of team Househouse and senior computer science student at Morehouse College. “Coming into this, we had a plan, we executed on it and we are so happy we had this amazing opportunity to work and learn with Zillow.”

The event brought together 49 teams representing 17 HBCUs. Six teams advanced to the final round and had five minutes to present their ideas virtually, using live demonstrations and presentation decks, to a panel of judges made up of Zillow and tech industry leaders.

“We are incredibly impressed with the ingenuity, passion and leadership the students showed at Zillow’s HBCU Housing Hackathon,” said Aldona Clottey, Zillow vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility and one of the judges. “It was inspiring to see everyone dig into this challenge and bring their perspective on solutions to some of the problems people face when it comes to renting, buying or selling a home. These students showed us that our future is in great hands and we are proud to support them and the institutions that serve them.”

The first-place team from Morehouse, Househouse, included Kendall Camp, Grant Commodore, Joshua Curry and Paul Lockett. Their “Reliby” application addresses financial uncertainty for long-term renters and provides users with a “stability score” to illuminate dramatic increases in living expenses that might come months or years in the future.

“Computer science departments at HBCUs specialize in developing technically competent students with a sense of mission and purpose that drives them to innovate,” said Alfred R. Watkins, Ph.D., academic program director for computer science at Morehouse College. “The success of the winning team from Morehouse is an indication the college is working hard to attract, nurture, support, educate and challenge young students to become the tech-savvy leaders this world needs today.”

Zillow HBCU Hackathon Runners-Up

The other hackathon prize winners were Team SU of Southern University and A&M College, and Aht Aht of Philander Smith College.

Team SU won second place and a $12,000 prize for its “ZPlan” to provide Zillow users — primarily those who aspire to become homeowners but might lack financial literacy and understanding of the home-buying process — with tailored help, such as tips for home buying or renting and suggested listings based on housing location data.

“This was by far one of the most intriguing hackathons I have ever participated in, and the competition was off the charts,” said Rason Irvin, member of Team SU and computer science student at Southern University and A&M College. “My team and I were able to accomplish a lot in our short amount of time and grow skills that will carry over into our everyday lives. Having peers performing at a high level and in the same domain proves to me that the ‘odd man out’ feeling I have felt in previous roles will hopefully be a thing of the past as the top diversity talent makes their way into tech.”

Team SU also included Nicolas Hardin and Dominique McCraney.

Aht Aht won third place and $6,000 for its “ZInvest” idea, an investment tool designed to lessen the burden of high housing costs and help level the playing field in real estate investing through tokenization. The team conceptualized a marketplace where one can invest in real estate at a lower price point using blockchain technology.

Aht Aht included Vanessa Agbugba, Samuel Alake, Lashaun McKenzie and Sam Davis Omekara.

The remaining semifinalist teams include:

  • genZillow of Howard University, including Derrick Boston III, Tehya Gaines, Ashley Haynes and Joshua Wallington
  • FAMU Innovators of Florida A&M University, including Erika Dargan, Wicliff Fleurizard, Zachary Gilchrist and Nana Ama Marfo
  • The House of Morehouse College, including Trae Brown, Irvin Franklin, Divine Linus and Travis Sherman

Judges of the semifinal round included Rhonda Allen, chief executive officer, /dev/color; David Beitel, Zillow chief technology officer; Loni Mahanta, Zillow vice president, government relations; Tiffany Taylor, chief people & impact officer, GSV Ventures; and special student judge Richard Clay, Bowie State University Class Of 2022.

All students from the top three teams also will receive new laptops, textbook gift cards and AfroTech World 2021 conference tickets, and all eligible hackathon participants interested in a role at Zillow will have an opportunity to interview for an internship.

The hackathon’s final pitch round was judged by Zillow and tech industry leaders that included Eric Bailey, vice president of Experience Design at Zillow; Aldona Clottey, Zillow vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility; Stan Humphries, Ph.D., chief analytics officer at Zillow; Jaisa Minor, head of partnerships at HBCU.vcDamien Peters, founder of Wealth Noir; and Chad Womack, Ph.D., senior director of National STEM Programs and Initiatives at UNCF.

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