Several weeks ago, I got a chance to catch up with Dan Kass and Georges Clement, two of the three co-founders of JustFix.NYC, a rising civic tech nonprofit that has been earning a lot of positive attention for the ways it is supporting tenants and affordable housing advocacy. As they both show in this conversation, JustFix has learned a lot of valuable lessons about how to co-create effective civic tech tools and practices, working closely with the community it is rooted in, using technology for housing justice. Kass recently announced that he was stepping down from the role of executive director and joining JustFix.NYC’s board. Clement is now the organization’s interim executive director.
Sifry: Where to begin? How do you tell your story?
Dan Kass: Georges and I met at the Blue Ridge Labs Fellowship program, with our third cofounder, Ashley Treni, back in 2015. That was the same year that we did the NYC Big Apps competition, and we have pretty much just been going at it since then. JustFix started as a side project that I had been working on, collaborating with organizers in my neighborhood, doing tenant organizing work, with a perspective of how data and technology can contribute to what they were trying to do.
It took us a couple of years to figure out the funding game and really build out a team. We’re up to about 10 people now with two very complimentary services. One is meant for individual tenants, anyone here in the city, public housing or private housing, that’s having issues in their apartment that will likely lead to displacement. Our mission at its core is to stem the flow of working class and low income communities leaving the city. Helping to get repairs and fight harassment from your landlord and understanding the process of fighting evictions, understanding the legal process, connecting with resources, things like that.
We have a number of different products that fall under that side of the work, either really easy to use texting services or fully-fledged web apps. What was really effective was doing these individual small projects one at a time and really seeing which ones stuck, and then building out the usability and accessibility side of those.