A team of four students from Morehouse College have won first place in Zillow’s first-ever HBCU Housing Hackathon for creating an app that uses machine learning in order to predict rising rent or utility expenses at an address over time and give renters warning about affordability challenges, Zillow announced on Thursday.

For winning first place, the Morehouse students received $20,000, and Zillow donated $25,000 to the College’s computer science program.

The HBCU Housing Hackathon was a seven-day virtual competition to challenge students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to create and pitch to a panel of judges tech solutions “that align with Zillow’s goal to help consumers overcome obstacles on their journey to find a home.”

The competition was hosted in collaboration with nonprofit and philanthropic organizations United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Black Tech Ventures (BTV) and Amplify 4 Good.

“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,” Paul Locket, a member of the winning team “Househouse” and senior computer science student at Morehouse, said in a statement. “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.”

A total of 49 teams across 17 HBCUs competed in the event. During the final round, six remaining teams gave five-minute virtual presentations to a panel of judges comprised of Zillow and other tech industry leaders.

The first-place Househouse team included Morehouse students Kendall Camp, Grant Commodore, Joshua Curry and Paul Lockett. The group’s “Reliby” app gives users a “stability score” to help make more transparent large increases in living expenses that may be coming down the pike.

“We are incredibly impressed with the ingenuity, passion and leadership the students showed at Zillow’s HBCU Housing Hackathon,” Aldona Clottey, Zillow’s vice president of corporate social responsibility and a competition judge, said in a statement. “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.”

“Computer science departments at HBCUs specialize in developing technically competent students with a sense of mission and purpose that drives them to innovate,” Alfred R. Watkins,  Ph.D., academic program director for computer science at Morehouse College, said in a statement. “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.”

Nicolas Hardin, Dominique McCraney and Rason Irvin of Team SU | Credit: MeMe’s Photography

The second place team, “Team SU,” included Rason Irvin, Nicholas Hardin and Dominique McCraney from Southern University and A&M College.

The team received $12,000 for its “ZPlan,” a program to provide Zillow users, especially those with limited financial literacy or knowledge about the homebuying process, customized assistance in becoming a homeowner, like tailored tips and providing them with listings based on housing data.

Philander Smith College Assistant Professor Suzan Anwar with Team Aht Aht members Vanessa Agbugba, Sam Davis Omekara, Lashaun McKenzie and Samuel Alake | Credit: Thino Photography

Third place team “Aht Aht” from Philander Smith College received $6,000 for its “ZInvest” project, an investment tool to help teach users about high housing costs and help make real estate investing more accessible through tokenization.

The group’s project envisioned a marketplace where individuals could invest at a lower price point through blockchain technology.

Team Aht Aht was made up of members Vanessa AgbugbaSamuel AlakeLashaun McKenzie and Sam Davis Omekara.

All members of the top three teams will also receive as part of their prize package new laptops, gift cards for textbooks and AfroTech World 2021 conference tickets, as well as an opportunity to interview for an internship at Zillow.

Email Lillian Dickerson

rentals | technology | Zillow
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