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Eviction Defense Collaborative Looks to Hackers for Help

"We're still in a lot of trust-building phases -- exploratory phases -- with tech people. But we're not gonna beat this thing without them."

Nellie Bowles

When Tyler Macmillan, executive director of the Eviction Defense Collaborative, told his staff he was going to a tech hackathon, he didn’t get an enthusiastic reaction.

“Some folks in the office were suspicious of any offer to help by the tech community — it’s seen as just another buy-off. Like, ‘Okay, a hackathon, great,'” Macmillan said. “And I understand that cynicism. A lot of it is fair.”

Determined, Macmillan went anyway.

Over the weekend, the advertising firm Goodby Silverstein & Partners brought Bay Area nonprofits and about 50 young technologists together for a 24-hour event called Hack SF. Representatives from Goodwill, La Casa de las Madres, and the Collaborative watched while groups of hackers came up with outreach campaigns for them. Government representatives and tech leaders, like Scott Schwaitzberg from Google’s Civic Innovation team and Shannon Spanhake from the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, then picked a winner. At the end, the hackers’ only prize was to say they had done it. The Goodby agency donated $5,000 to each nonprofit.

Macmillan said that when he arrived, the techies were nervous about him, too.

“There was a moment there, when I said, ‘eviction,’ and you could see folks tense up. But I wanted to be there.”

On Sunday morning, the hackers were napping and resting on couches in Goodby’s modern Nob Hill offices, while judges deliberated.

“All of the anti-gentrification talk, it’s important to listen,” said Allison Cooper, a 24-year-old user-experience designer. “There’s the tech bubble, and then there are real people.”

“I want to be able to benefit the world in some way, not just work for some big tech company,” said Jenna Yi, a 20-year-old computer science major at UC Berkeley. “There’s still a little stigma around that.”

The work for the 12 lawyers at the Eviction Defense Coalition is high-stakes. Some landlord lawyers are hosting eviction bootcamps for their clients, who may be looking to trade longtime tenants for new, market-rate tenants. And in a city with the most expensive real estate in the country, tensions between some residents and the tech industry’s well-paid newcomers are high.

Macmillan, whose office handles 2,000 eviction cases a year, arrived at the hackathon with a vague outline for a “Don’t Move” campaign. The winning hackers made it more assertive: The team designed billboards with instruction in three languages, explaining that if a landlord is trying to evict you, text the Eviction Defense Collaborative and immediately get a lawyer. They also designed a new, sleeker logo for the Collaborative — a circle of people standing in a house.

“You have to understand, at the office, we still rely predominantly on paper intake forms. What could they do in 24 hours? It’s a great example of why we need to do this kind of stuff. It was so amazing.”

None of his staff — a team that has tripled over the past few years — came with him to the hackathon.

“The doubt and distrust is totally valid,” Macmillan said. “We’re still in a lot of trust-building phases — exploratory phases — with tech people. But we’re not gonna beat this thing without them.”

This article originally appeared on

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