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A student-designed app that offers buyers an alternative way to prove their creditworthiness when seeking a mortgage loan earned first place in Zillow’s hackathon for historically Black colleges and universities.

A four-student team from Morgan State University took home the competition’s $20,000 prize this year for their “Z-Save” app, Zillow announced Wednesday. Team members Nanfwang Dawurang, Oluwadara Dina, Saad Nadeem and Godsheritage Adeoye were recognized for their work on the project.

“Their winning ‘Z-Save’ application was designed to address disproportionate mortgage denial rates for Black and Latinx borrowers due to low credit scores by providing an alternative way for lenders to assess financial credibility,” Zillow said in a news release announcing the competition winners.

Through their app, the team laid out a new process by which buyers can demonstrate they are able to make home payments — without the need for a traditional credit score. 

The app creates an estimate of what a buyer’s monthly mortgage costs will be, then provides a virtual wallet into which users can deposit that amount each month. Lenders can then track the user’s “payment” history over time and view other relevant info to help them make decisions.

“I wanted to participate in the hackathon to learn more about the real estate industry and explore on a deeper level how technology can help solve the most prominent issues people face every day when trying to secure a home,” Dawurang, a computer science student, said in the release.

The Z-Save app was one of three projects recognized by the Seattle-based real estate portal giant. The other two also received cash prizes and recognition for their ideas.

“We are very impressed with the caliber of the work, the quality of the presentations, and the outstanding, innovative ideas the students displayed at Zillow’s second HBCU Housing Hackathon,” Aldona Clottey, Zillow’s vice president of corporate social responsibility, said in the release.

This year’s runners-up from Fisk University designed a rental hub that used machine learning to help renters find compatible roommates or cosigners. The team — made up of students Collins Ikpeyi, Sopuruchi Ndubuisi and Elijah Okoroh — received a $12,000 prize.

Third place went to a team from Howard University that created an app that helps younger homebuyers shop for places to live using their lifestyle-based preferences and community features. Team members Bryce Gordon-Pinkston, Ife Martin, Ayotunde Ogunroku took home a $6,000 prize for their work.

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