Making progress with Housing Assist

A lot has been happening with the development of Housing Assist, and working with organizations like Meals on Wheels of Central Texas, a leader in the area for home services, we’ve made a great deal of progress!

The focus for the last few weeks has been on developing the business concept and way that residents can more easily apply for and access home repair services.

In this post, I’ll cover some background on the project in addition to more recent updates and a look at my next steps.


 

Project Background

For those of you who are new to the project, my team spent eight weeks doing design research with the City of Austin, interviewing dozens of lower-income homeowners to understand opportunities to improve their experiences and quality of life in the city.

One of the key insights from that research was that many low-income homeowners struggled with the costs of maintaining repairs and improvements on their homes. From leaky roofs to mobility challenges to requirements by code enforcement to fix up their homes, these homeowners faced unsafe conditions or possibly having to leave their homes if they didn’t repair them.

A home requiring critical repairs. The owner gave up on applying for repair assistance.
A home requiring critical repairs. The owner gave up on applying for repair assistance.

The biggest challenge for these homeowners isn’t that housing repair services don’t exist – there are about a dozen organizations who provide the services. The challenge for many of them is that the options and requirements to pursue in applying for help is fraught with challenges causing many homeowners to give up or hit dead ends needlessly.

Housing Assist

How might we make it easier for homeowners to get the housing repairs they need to continue to keep and live healthfully in their homes?

Housing Assist is a service that helps homeowners stay in their homes by centralizing and streamlining the application process. Instead of directing applicants to each of the many service providers, applicants are directed to answer a handful of questions in a central, easy-to-use, website, and within moments of providing the responses, they get a clear response indicating their eligibility and their matching organizations.

With a central pool of applicants and assigned matching based on service providers’ eligibility profile, Housing Assist helps the Austin Housing Repair Coalition members better coordinate their resources, meet capacity for their grants, and serve the residents of Austin.

In addition, instead of receiving several confusing, overlapping, and redundant applications, homeowners receive consolidated versions of the applications they’re matched to and only need to fill out the one.

In all, the streamlined process and application help both homeowners and service providers to more effectively complete the application process, improving homeowners’ likelihood of getting the services they need to keep and live healthfully in their homes.

Recent Updates

Application Analysis & Vision for Housing Assist

Over the past three weeks, I have been fortunate to have time meeting with and discussing the details of the housing repair programs, applications, and processes with experts in the field from organizations in the Austin Housing Repair Coalition such as Meals on Wheels. These meetings have been instrumental to develop partnerships for piloting a prototype of Housing Assist as well as to gain insights into developing a solution.

There are several programs and organizations that individuals may apply to for assistance. Charlie Cloutman, the VP of Home Repair Programs and John Lyon, the Housing Repair Programs Manager helped me understand the programs, their application forms, and the processes to apply.

After analyzing the applications and their requirements, we developed a series of questions and processes that would be most likely to assess applicant eligibility. This information helped inform my later solution of developing a preliminary intake that will be so helpful in evaluating applicants’ eligibility and matching.

Image of Application Analysis
Homeowners applying for housing repair assistance need to complete as many as six applications. This analysis helped evaluate overlap and distinction of the forms’ requirements in order to design a streamlined application process.

To develop a single, unified form, I analyzed the six separate applications that residents may need to fill out in applying for home repair service. These applications can add up to over thirty pages of information and dozens of different kinds of documents required to prove their need. From identity verification to proving financial need and homeownership status, this documentation is necessary to ensure that funds go to the most needy and eligible, but, as is the case for many opportunities in society, those who are most in need are the ones least likely to have the knowledge, organization and other supports that help them complete a rigorous application process.

The question then is how to reduce the application workload while best serving applicants and providing granting agencies the documentation they require. To answer that question, I developed an analysis of the six distinct applications’ questions, requirements, and legal certifications, detailing the overlapping and distinct components. This analysis will be used to create a single application to send to applicants that synthesized the separate applications they would normally be required to complete.

If an applicant were eligible to apply for all six programs, instead of completing six applications and cross-referencing them to understand their different required documentation, applicants can complete a single, highly abbreviated and synthesized application form. When service providers receive this form, they can transfer the contents to the separate forms and get them signed for submission to the granting organizations. By reducing the workload and overwhelm for applicants, this process will also improve the likelihood they will successfully complete the application process and receive the help that they need.

Pilot

The partnership with Meals on Wheels of Central Texas has been very fruitful. In addition to supporting my analysis of the challenge, they have come onboard to partner for the pilot as well. I will join them on an intake visit with a new applicant in the next two weeks and we will assist the homeowner to complete the full application form.

The opportunity will help us understand the usability of the form. In addition, the intake specialist and I will translate the form contents to the six separate forms, evaluating the work effort of the process and the accuracy of the form’s alignment to the six original applications.

Next up

Wireframing

The coming weeks will be focused on developing and doing usability testing on the wireframes for the online web form that will serve as the initial intake.

Customer Journey Maps, Service Blueprints, and Story boards

I have needed to shift the Housing Assist approach recently, making the past concept models outdated. (I have not included them in this post for just this reason. They would not match the content of this post and would confuse the reader.) I am developing new versions of those documents this week and will post them in my next post for Housing Assist.

Until then, stay tuned!