The reason I decided to start my career in the affordable housing industry is because I believe in the mission. Housing is one of the core needs of society and ensuring that every citizen has access to affordable housing is an important cause to get behind.
That being said, it’s not an easy job. In an ideal world, organizations and individuals looking to make an impact in affordable housing would have all of the resources they need at their disposal, including a fully staffed team to run these programs, taking into account all of the deadlines, restrictions, and requirements. But this is almost never the case.
As someone who has had a hand in the PHA world for a while, I spent countless years juggling people, data, systems, and processes daily in order to get the job done. Often these frustrations and complications get in the way of both the ability to get things done, and the motivation to keep moving forward.
At the end of the day, those who care deeply about providing safe, affordable, and comfortable housing will carry on. But our grit and determination shouldn’t deter our pursuit of improvement.
Here are the 3 areas of affordable housing that along the course of my career I have found could use change and improvement.
Workflow, Staffing and Process Constraints Within the HCV Program
Unfortunately, many housing authorities deal with a slew of problems on a consistent basis, from compliance to staffing to processes to data issues. These hiccups can be a headache on a day-to-day basis, but especially when audits come around.
When teams are forced to take a step back and investigate how they’re operating, they find themselves scratching their heads at the things they didn’t know were going wrong in their processes. Not being able to see problems as they first arise—and before they cause even bigger issues—is crucial to an effective and efficient operation.
To avoid the potential domino effect of errors, the solution is to put a good system in place that can flag issues as soon as they appear, allowing housing authorities to proactively solve them before an audit or a complaint by a tenant or landlord.
For example, when I worked at a very large housing authority that had the resources to invest in great technology, it made the work not only streamlined but predictable. What made the software especially helpful was that it had many tools to take us from one step of the process to the next, allowing us to track our work easily within the system.
Industry Training for Frontline Staff
A strong team is the backbone of any organization. So, when new members join the ranks, you’ll want to make sure that they’re given all the tools they need to understand processes, systems, and organizational considerations.
While government organizations typically have a substantial onboarding process that’s filled with training on all the core rules and regulations, technology is one area that’s often neglected or underserved.
In government organizations, new software isn’t adopted all the time, and it’s usually a big investment. To make the changes and cost worth it, training and buy-in from staff are crucial.
Legacy software for the affordable housing industry, like HCV platforms, reflects the complexity of the industry. This can be an intimidating learning curve for new team members who are also learning about program rules at the same time. It’s important that you invest time in training teams in all the tools that they will use to do their work.
This is not just for new team members, though. Continuous training is needed to account for platform updates, changing internal processes, and the human nature of forgetting small details. For the clunky, complicated software that typically exists in government organizations, several sessions of initial training may be necessary.
Many teams may already be so stretched thin that they can’t sacrifice the extra resources needed to invest in thorough and continuous training. That’s why the best solution is to implement an easily implementable and easily navigable HCV tool that has less of a learning curve and/or has built-in training for new users that is robust and supportive.
Landlord Engagement and Usage of the HCV Program
In 2023, citizens across the whole country are struggling with skyrocketing rent and a low volume of available units. Currently, there is a shortage of 7.3 million affordable and available rental homes. This shortage has caused many households who weren’t previously in need of housing assistance to seek resources and has only made the struggles of already low-income citizens even tougher.
This has made affordable housing programs like Housing Choice Vouchers simultaneously more important and more difficult to achieve.
Increasingly, it’s become trickier for HCV tenants to find properties that support their vouchers, as well as to locate housing that falls within the rent limits that are required for each local agency.
As a result, HCV teams have had to provide multiple extensions, use waivers, and employ CARES money to get families in need into safe and affordable housing.
While much of the issue is out of the control of local authorities, one potential solution in their grasp is to take a local approach. Local authorities can combat low landlord engagement by employing strategies that incentivize landlords to both join the program and stay on the program.
Previously, I worked at a housing authority that provided incentives for landlords that passed inspections on the first round and gave financial incentives for those that housed new clients to the voucher program. As a result, we were able to get more landlords committed to working with our agency, and to house families more quickly.
On top of formalized incentive programs, engaging current and prospective landlords with clear communication and expectation setting will encourage longer and more passionate participation by landlords.
Let’s Solve Our Program issue with Innovative Software
The affordable housing industry has bigger goals than ever to tackle. And the only way to achieve the change that your team wants is to make investments that cut out any of these core pain points.
If your team is unclear on the issues happening in the organization, doesn’t have the training to use the tools necessary to get their job done, and they must deal with a shrinking pool of participating landlords, their ability to make an impact is severely limited.
Many of the solutions to these problems involve cultural and operational changes that, though complex, are completely possible.
Just as many can be solved with intentionally implemented technology that can help to alleviate frustration, uncertainty, and wasted time. Thinking about making the jump from your seemingly impossible-to-navigate legacy software into a modern HCV solution? Learn more about what Neighborly can help you achieve.