Student hackathon finds fixes for affordable housing and recycling TVs

by Fergal Gallagher
October 25, 2015

 

Could you help New Yorkers vote, find housing, recycle, campaign for social justice, and redress the gender imbalance in tech — all in a day’s work?

These lofty goals may seem beyond the combined powers of Mother Teresa, Superman and Nelson Mandela, but it’s exactly what a group of students attempted in downtown Manhattan on Saturday.

A group of about 50 student hackers from colleges across the city locked themselves in a room overlooking the charging bull statue in the Financial District and attempted to tackle the city’s social problems. The Build for NYC culminated in a pitch presentation to an expectant panel of judges, including serial entrepreneur John Henryand, and an awards ceremony which didn’t take place until well after 10 p.m.

The nine teams of students were asked to create solutions in one the following of six categories: affordable housing, civic engagement, women in tech, zero waste, connected cities and sustainability.

The panel could barely pick a winner, finally awarding joint victory to teams Sycle and Affordable Housing NYC.

Sycle proposed a kind of social game for recycling electronics. With their technology, users could post pictures of unwanted old phones, TVs or game consoles and users or ‘agents’ would collect the items. Recycled items would gain points on the Sycle platform. Points could then be exchanged for discounts at potential sponsor stores like Best Buy. It’s illegal to dump electronics in the city and New Yorkers would likely pay for someone to collect unwanted goods rather than bring them to the appropriate recycling center.

Team Affordable Housing’s app aimed to be the first point of contact for anyone looking for social housing in the city. There are dozens of affordable housing programs in the city, but no one website or app where each of the options are explained. The most interesting part of the proposed app was a pre-screening process where users would be asked a set of short questions after which the app would determine whether they might be eligible to proceed with the lengthly official application forms. “Many people who are eligible for affordable housing, don’t realize it, and never apply,” the team said in the live pitch. “We want to simplify the application process and build a one stop shop for Affordable Housing.” 

In third place was Movements, a social network that would allow people to plan and organize real word social movements on the ground rather than just liking a ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Global Warming’ post on Facebook.

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