Protecting Tenants’ Rights: A Social Impact Case Study
In New York City, landlords are supposed to register their rent stabilized apartments with an agency called the Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), but there is no penalty if they refuse to do so, and they and can often take advantage of tenants who are in the dark. This situation is a huge barrier to preserving existing affordable housing in NYC, but it’s also an opening for a little knowledge to empower renters.
Earlier this year, cartographer and developer Chris Henrick set out to create a tool for tenants to claim their rights. When he asked Radish to consult on the design process, we were honored to pitch in. (Since then, Chris joined Radish as the newest member of our team!)
The result is amirentstabilized.com, an interactive tool that helps New York City residents determine whether or not their apartments are rent stabilized, and provides tips and resources for invoking their rights as tenants. It uses open-source data to promote civic action and connects renters with their nearest tenants’ rights group. It also includes some invaluable resources on why rent stabilization is important and how the real estate industry is attempting to discontinue it. (You can read more about the project here.)
Kicking off, we knew the website needed to be clear, inviting, and easy to use, with a responsive, mobile-friendly interface that could accommodate Spanish and Chinese speakers in addition to English. So we swooped in with some UX recommendations. But first we had to answer a few questions. Do we enable users to skip ahead to explore resources or guide them through a step-by-step approach? How do we keep users engaged throughout the entire process, which involved requesting information from DHCR and waiting for it to arrive via—gasp—snail mail? How do we encourage the user to return to evaluate what they’ve received and take action? To address these issues, we emphasized the why and how of each step. People are much more patient and trusting when they know what’s going on behind the scenes. We also focused the user’s attention by using progressive disclosure, a design technique to improve usability by reducing clutter and presenting only pertinent information required for the task at hand. And along the way, we tried to include incentives to continue and reminders to come back. Ultimately, we designed a system that helps people navigate existing bureaucracy and clear all the necessary hurdles in a more streamlined way.
We think the outcome is quite successful. Your task, dear reader, is to spread the word and share amirentstabilized.com with the New York City renters in your life. May it be a guide for all to help reclaim affordable living in the city.