SIL: Tell us about HostHome. What are you trying to do?
Ava: HostHome is a new tool born from community labor and built to be responsive to community needs. In a technical sense, HostHome is an accessible housing platform starting in the LGBT community. We expand access to the sharing economy to under-served markets through our certified host networks, sliding scale payment options, and a bookings hotline. We are providing a new option to the LGBT community which replaces the experience of being a case at a shelter or housing program with that of being a customer at a hotel.
SIL: Why did you decide to start this? Where did the idea come from?
Max: I decided to start this because I know people who have been outside for prolonged periods of time. I was outside for a long time. I know what it’s like to be unstably housed, alone, and hungry. There were many strangers who became quick friends and took me in. That’s where this idea came from.
Ava: We came together to respond to the constant need for transgender housing in Baltimore. Having experienced various level of housing instability personally, we both know how being transgender changes the conversation around housing and travel. After taking in several trans folx in need through the spring of 2017, we leveraged our backgrounds in startups and nonprofit work to scale up our efforts to house our community. How could we quantify the labor we are already doing? How could we leverage corporate and institutional power to lift our efforts?
SIL: What would you consider success for HostHome and how would the world be different if you’re successful?
Ava: Success is a stably housed world where anyone can access housing without price and technology barriers and their experiences are valued. When HostHome is operating at scale, LGBT and especially transgender folx, will have the power to access affordable, temporary housing and an accepting community. Transgender people will also find affirming employment on our platform as hosts, doing the work we are already doing for free.
While we are starting in the LGBT community, our model can scale beyond to other demographics who also face barriers in public housing, housing programs, emergency housing, and online rental platforms.
SIL: What have you accomplished so far?
Max: In our successful, first pilot we had 21 guest stays for a cumulative 75+ nights with only 4 hosts and $1200 raised.
Now, we have secured over $15,000 in in-kind donations and are completing the Social Innovation Lab and Founder Gym cohorts. In our upcoming, second pilot, we will complete 1000 hosted nights.
SIL: What have you enjoyed most about your time with SIL?
Max: Building the connections necessary to launch our second pilot. This upcoming pilot will generate the traction and user feedback we need for our upcoming seed round.
SIL: Tell us about yourselves. What got you interested in this issue? Any experience that informs your work now?
Ava: I have a background in nonprofit management and public speaking. I am also a worker owner at a cooperative cafe and bookstore. These two roles have taught me the power of my voice and what is possible when you allow yourself to be successful, especially when you collaborate equitably with others. I also direct a transgender advocacy organization and am constantly working to house my community.
We both intimately understand the lack of housing stability facing transgender people, and we have experienced bias in the sharing economy firsthand. We are a part of the under-served market that HostHome is addressing. This platform will be a tool for LGBT people to use as a side hustle, a travel platform, a housing solution, and a community space. We have identified the key factor that unites our community across race and class barriers: housing bias. We do this work because it is not okay that it hasn’t been done already.
SIL: What’s your favorite place or thing to do in Baltimore?
Max: Go to Red Emma’s and pay it forward by buying a coffee or snack for someone else.
Ava: Ride my bike recklessly until something breaks and I have to fix it and use my mechanic skills.
SIL: What advice do you have for would-be social entrepreneurs thinking about starting a venture?
Max: Just start. Take a step, and put one foot in front of the other. If you are solving a problem that people care about, then traction will follow from that. Measure it. That said, make sure to research as much as you can about the issue to have the best information possible. Don’t rush in to save anyone. Be the closest to the problem so that you can be the closest to the solution.
Ava: Have a support system outside of family and romantic partners who can grok what you are up to and know how to hold you accountable. Emotional support and accountability are critical.