Mental health, housing rights targeted in latest NYC tech competitions

Officials say they're aiming to help Hispanic communities in the Inwood and Washington Heights neighborhoods through the two latest NYCx Co-Lab challenges.
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New York City unveiled two new competitions on Wednesday, announcing it will accept applications from civic technology companies to design tools that can improve mental health outreach and awareness of housing policies and tenants rights.

The competitions aim to help communities in two low-income Manhattan neighborhoods — Inwood and Washington Heights — through a partnership between the New York City Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. These are the most recent iterations of the city’s NYCx Co-Lab Challenge program, designed to address inequality in urban areas.

The winners of each competition will pilot their technologies with city agencies in New York City for a year, beginning this fall, and receive up to $20,000 for product development.

Oscar Romero, director of the NYCx Co-Lab Challenge program, told StateScoop the neighborhoods were chosen after researchers analyzed their economic needs and population density for more than a year, starting in August 2018. The challenge program subsequently convened 35 residents from the neighborhoods to discuss local issues, and Romero said health and housing were identified as two issues that many thought technology could help solve.


In a press release, NYC Chief Technology Officer John Paul Farmer called the work between the program and the neighborhoods a “genuine partnership.”

“A smart city designs with and for communities to solve real-world problems,” Farmer said.

The city is asking teams interested in submitting applications to ensure their solutions make it easier for youth to get mental health support and to understand the stigma around mental illness, with a particular focus on Hispanic communities. The city says it’s also looking for solutions that can enhance the offerings of organizations that already provide mental health services.

For the housing challenge, proposals should empower existing tenants-rights organizations and focus on technologies that can simplify laws to make tenant education more efficient and effective.

Previous NYCx challenges targeted Brownsville, Brooklyn, and sought solutions to reduce litter and increase recycling, as well as install “smart lighting” to increase safety at night and spur economic development. Winning proposals in those challenges included a door-to-door recycling pickup service called Mothers on the Move and automated composting machines to reduce food waste.


NYCEDC has also hosted several “moonshot” challenges that use technology to improve the city’s adoption of emerging technologies such as 5G wireless, autonomous vehicles and cybersecurity for small businesses.

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