SXSW’s What is a Smart City: Technologies & Challenges

Early Sunday morning, a packed audience filled 3TEN Austin City Limits Live for a panel discussion on “What is a Smart City: Technologies & Challenges.”

Writing for the Austin Monitor, Chad Swiatecki already did an excellent job recapping the event, including an exciting bit of news regarding using technology to battle Austin’s affordability crisis. From Chad’s article:

The South by Southwest panel “What Is a Smart City?” was a typical SXSW mix of big ideas and analysis, though there was one bit of news for locals: The Austin CityUP public/private consortium is in the process of developing a Multiple Listing Service-style resource for Austin properties that accept government housing vouchers, which can be hard to redeem and expire if not used quickly.
Moderator Sherri Greenberg, a state and local government professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, offered that nugget at the start of the session and said that a formal announcement with more details would be issued soon. It served as an example of how Austin leaders are trying to ease residents’ difficulties with affordable housing, which is one of the most pernicious problems thanks to a growing population and slow pace of housing construction.

Austin Tech Alliance attended Sunday’s discussion and is a member of Austin CityUP, so it’s worth diving a bit more into this intriguing project.

The effort is aimed at creating an affordable housing location tool to make it easier for housing choice voucher participants to locate immediately available affordable housing and prioritize their search based on user-selected factors like crime rates, nearby schools, and walkability.

As background, the housing choice voucher program is the U.S. government’s “major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market,” as described by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Vouchers are administered by local housing authorities, and in Austin, that responsibility falls on the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA). HACA was represented on the panel by Catherine Crago, Head of Strategic Initiatives and Resource Development.

The need to assist voucher recipients with locating affordable housing in a timely manner is very real. As explained by Sherri Greenberg, a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin, recipients lose their voucher if it is not used within 180 days.

When you combine this time limit with the fact that landlords in Texas are not required to accept vouchers, voucher recipients face a difficult task in navigating a large city without a central resource listing affordable housing options that are immediately available.

This type of technological tool fits perfectly with Greenberg’s definition of a smart city, which she laid out at the beginning of the panel: a city that uses new technology, engagement, and governance models to improve service delivery and quality of life for all of its residents.


Austin Tech Alliance is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting civic engagement in Austin’s tech sector. We focus on:

  • Educating the tech grassroots on issues that impact them
  • Advocating for tech-forward solutions to community challenges
  • Activating the tech community to speak up, participate, and vote
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