The community in which we live is one of the biggest assets that we have. When our communities thrive, we thrive. And that’s what’s at the heart of HCD, or Housing and Community Development, projects.
The teams that bring these projects to life are dedicated to creating positive change in their communities, whether that’s through public housing, the development and revitalization of communities, or the promotion of home ownership.
However, these teams face several critical challenges that can get in the way of achieving their principal goals. As someone who has years of experience working on and with these teams, along the way I’ve identified some key challenges that stand in the way. And I’ve been able to nail down the best strategies to overcome even the seemingly most inevitable problems.
Change costs money. And this is one of the primary roadblocks for local governments.
Typically, most departments are funded fully by Administrative Set-Asides that are pre-determined depending on the funding source. It’s rare that city or county governments elect to contribute any General funds to these departments. That leaves Housing and Community Development teams with strict—and usually low—limits on the budget that they have at their disposal.
At the same moment that funding is shrinking, administrative costs are rising. In 2020, research found that 86% of HCD spending went towards operational costs. While some of these costs could be directly linked to real change, such as rent subsidies and homeownership education, the costs of planning and other operational services far outweigh the mere 14% that goes towards capital outlays that includes the construction and rehabilitation of public housing and infrastructure.
To make the most of the hands they’ve been dealt, HCD teams need to plan intentionally and boost their efficiency to minimize their time and resource waste. This includes flexible and adaptive planning, supported by time-saving technology.
Staff Turnover and Burnout
While there is no shortage of people out there hoping to make a positive impact in their community, unfortunately it’s difficult to maintain a reliable and loyal pool of employees in any government role. This issue is only becoming more pronounced as younger people—the future of the workforce—are leaving government jobs at a much higher rate than their older counterparts.
In addition to the struggle to maintain employee engagement, the cost of replacing employees quickly eats into the already limited budget, costing anywhere between 16% to 200% of the annual salary.
Contrary to some popular opinions, it’s not just the low pay of government roles that’s repelling strong workers. There are a variety of factors that contribute more to an overall negative experience.
The need to maintain compliant standards with minimal regulatory guidance and extreme urgency, combined with shrinking teams and the lack of technology at their disposal, leaves many of these highly skilled workers with lots of tedious, manual tasks on their plates. Overall, this leads to a diminished feeling of value and meaning in their roles.
In addition to the monotonous workload, a survey identified that participation in decision-making, procedural justice, and support from supervisors play a much bigger role in job satisfaction and tenure than pay or career advancement. In other words, a positive and nurturing work environment can help to overcome some of the more inevitable downsides of working in the public sector.
While the budget is a harder nut to crack, an investment in employee experience can resolve many of the key contributors to the problem of turnover. From training and education surrounding regulatory practices, to a seat at the table in decision making, to shifting some of the burden of monotonous tasks from employees to technology, this is an undertaking that is not easy, but fully possible.
Antiquated and Time-Consuming Processes
In the realm of HCD, or any government processes, going through some red tape is almost unavoidable. There are a variety of time-consuming processes that steal valuable time.
One such process is the reporting on IDIS, HUD’s outdated reporting system. Teams must input tedious and hard-to-track down data points to remain compliant each year. While this is necessary, as this information is used to report to Congress and monitor grantees, it’s a massive thorn in the side of HCD teams.
While a fully built-out tech stack in other areas could help to support these necessary evils, the lack of digital transformation in government organizations only exacerbates this problem.
In a recent report, researchers found that a mere 7% of government leaders said their organization achieved its key digital transformation objectives. Among the problems cited were:
- A shortage of “digitally aware leaders” and transformation plans
- “Reactive, uncoordinated, and disconnected” actions that impede digital transformation
- Minimal investment in skills development and tech-centric recruiting
When this lack of technological innovation in the industry is combined with the rigid government policies and procedures, you’re left with an unnecessary waste of time and resources, a negative employee experience, and large barriers to achieving key outcomes.
Although change in the overarching government procedures and requirements may be slower to evolve, government employers do have the power to create a culture change that is innovation-focused, employing technology to support necessary processes and freeing up time to dig into the true results of the projects that everyone is working so hard to implement.
Unfortunately, the “use it or lose it” standards in HCD place a lot of pressure on teams to make quick decisions. Many of the programs that teams are participating in have timeliness requirements, and this is perhaps the most tangible challenge that teams grapple with.
For example, in CDBG, a Participating Jurisdiction can have no more than 1.5X their annual entitlement in their Line of Credit 45 days prior to their program year end. If they exceed this threshold, they may need to surrender their balance to HUD to reallocate.
This quickly becomes an uphill battle, as teams want to take their time to make the right decisions to allocate the funding they have available, but they feel the pressure to fit it in before it’s gone.
Given the culmination of all the other key challenges this makes it a very real possibility that your community could lose funds to other HUD projects. The time pressure alone can force decisions before they’re ready, but when you combine this with an overworked staff with a limited budget having to jump through lots of red tape, it becomes even more difficult to bring meaningful projects to completion.
This leaves the whole goal of HCD in jeopardy—when you no longer have the funding to support your initiatives, your ability to create change is weakened.
So, what’s the solution?
A Solution for All Key Challenges: Technology
While technology can seem like it’s thrown around as a blanket solution to everything nowadays, its value in driving efficiency cannot be overstated. This efficiency can resolve key problems in employee experience, budget restraints, timeliness, and nit-picky regulatory standards by giving teams.
By letting technology take some of the burden away from team members, you free up time and energy to push projects forward in a more intentional and fulfilling way. When you use technology to eliminate or minimize these key challenges, everyone can take a step back and connect their initiatives to actual stories of change.
While numerical data is nice to see, HCD teams need to be able to connect the data to actual stories. For example, the story of someone who was once homeless and is now a working homeowner can add color to all the data they pulled.
This is where the rubber hits the road for change. Not only does this provide a burst of motivation and inspiration, as well as insight into what went right and wrong, giving teams a better roadmap for success in the future.
Even working within the confines of a tight budget, a few deliberate investments in technology can help to create a more engaged team who is empowered to create real change.
To learn more about how Neighborly Software’s solutions can optimize your HCD processes, check out our case studies.