Code for America Fellowship at the Santa Monica Housing Authority

Project

The Code for America Community Fellowship in Santa Monica focused on improving the affordable housing application process. From day one, it was clear that this was a Service Design issue, that might not necessarily be ‘fixed’ by making a technological product.

Role UX Researcher and Service Designer
From discovery to design, I led and conducted research and interviews, prototyped and tested, and developed solutions

Tools Whiteboard, Post-its, Sketch, Google Slides, Orchard CMS, Wufoo

Problem

The issues are twofold:
1. Affordable housing application process with the City of Santa Monica’s Housing Authority is complex, not easy to understand, heavily reliant on an intense verification process, lacking education and human resources, as well as bogged down by an inundation of ineligible applications from those who don’t meet Section 8 eligibility requirements in the first place.

2. The community doesn’t know what the Housing Authority does, how Section 8 operates and who is eligible to apply, that there are other assistance programs beyond Section 8, and how to find information about ‘affordable housing’ in the city. They learn everything from their community, so rumors and incorrect information are continuously circulating. Lastly, the city website is not user-friendly, doesn’t have easy to find, clear information, but it’s the only resource available to the community.

Solutions

Digital Products

  • Website improvements
    • Reorganized the site pages, created a site map, simplified content on all pages, and added new subpages to improve usability and to make content easier to find for people needing help!
    • On all pages I added a sub-navigation to connect the main housing pages on Santa Monica’s city website- otherwise, the pages would not be connected and if the user clicked the main menu they would be returned to the city’s home page
    • On all pages I added visual hierarchy with headings, font sizing, indentations, simplified text links, organized content, and added anchor links to frequently asked questions at the top of longer pages so users didn’t have to scroll and read everything to find the information they need
  • Section 8 Eligibility Checker
    • With only a few simple questions, anyone can find out if they would be eligible to apply for Santa Monica’s Section 8 Waitlist.
    • Could be used to filter applicants who are applying to section 8, decreasing the thousands of applications that are not local, ineligible, or have no prioritizing “preferences”

Recommendations:

  • Social Media: I recommended the Housing Authority have its own social media accounts to post important news, updates, and educational content. 
  • Workshops: I recommended the Santa Monica Housing Authority hold workshops to educate the community leaders about Section 8 and the Housing Authority
  • Social media and workshops could open a direct communication line between the city and its residents who are so desperate for answers. Residents wanted affordable housing help, didn’t know where to find it and felt that no one in the city was willing to help them. At this time the city is actually trying to minimize the direct contact between residents at city employees, making it even harder for people to get help. Social Media is a low cost, easy way to get information out to their residents and interact with the community.
  • Click here to view a full report of these recommendations >

Research

Click here for my process deck >

Deliverables

Section 8 Applicant's Journey Map
Section 8 Applicant’s Journey Map
Existing Service Blueprint
Existing Service Blueprint
Service Blueprint with 'Service Patches'
Service Blueprint with ‘Service Patches’

Summary

TBA soon