The word “homelessness” conjures up heart-wrenching images: people who earn too little to live anywhere but in their vehicles or tents, emotionally shattered veterans struggling to adjust post-combat, battered spouses fleeing to limited shelter space, young people lacking family or prospects.
That’s what we think of: people and families—not data or technology. But data and technology are playing a critical role in helping states and localities stand up new programs to combat homelessness in their communities.
COVID amplified the already dire homelessness and housing instability challenge across our nation. Section 302 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provided $5 billion for new emergency housing vouchers, enabling housing authorities across America to provide tenant-based rental assistance specifically to homeless individuals and families and those at risk.
As part of this program, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) works with selected housing authorities across the country to administer these vouchers. Qualified voucher recipients pay a percentage of rent based on monthly adjusted income; a federal subsidy pays the remainder. HUD issued 70,000 emergency housing vouchers to be used specifically to help move eligible individuals and families from homelessness to safe and secure housing.
Housing authorities play a critical role in the Emergency Housing Voucher (EHV) program, as assisted by Continuum of Care (CoC) organizations. CoCs—regional or local planning bodies that coordinate housing and services for homeless families and individuals—help identify eligible individuals to receive an emergency housing voucher and refer that individual or family to the housing authority via a coordinated program entry system. CoCs determine whether families qualify under the four above-referenced Section 302 eligibility categories.
All of the activities needed to administer the EHV program require stakeholders across multiple organizations to follow detailed processes to ensure program integrity. In administering this new voucher program, multiple housing authorities have partnered with CGI to optimize their processes and leverage advanced technology to support these vital workflows.
Collecting data at every step of the workflow, CGI provides advanced analytics to support policymaking and continuous improvement efforts. Applying a user-centric design approach, CGI has introduced new technology that makes interacting with the EHV program easier for housing authorities, CoCs, voucher program participants and rental unit owners.
Enhancing case visibility
The goal of the EHV program is to help qualified individuals and families in need move to affordable housing units as quickly as possible. Agencies manage cases from initial referral through eligibility determination and voucher issuance to finding a rental and signing the lease. Once an applicant is deemed eligible and receives a voucher, that individual or family works with the CoC and a case worker to look for a housing unit that meets their needs and will accept the voucher. Vouchers are valid up to 180 days of issuance, meaning failure to find a qualifying rental unit during that time period could result in continued homelessness or housing insecurity.
By adapting technology CGI developed for other housing choice voucher programs to the EHV program, we enable housing authorities and CoCs to see where an applicant is in the referral process, when they have been deemed eligible, when a voucher has been issued and when that voucher may be nearing expiration. The organizations can provide additional support to those voucher-holders to help them find an appropriate rental unit before expiration, and move families more quickly into secure and safe housing.
Using advanced analytics to inform policy-making and process improvement
With the launch of any new program, organizations recognize the need to adjust policies and operating procedures as the program matures. This is true for the EHV program as well. Working under the adage that we can only improve what we measure, CGI uses advanced analytics to help the organizations we support gain greater insights into data that informs program efficacy.
For example, in one state, the housing authority realized that in some jurisdictions, CoCs were referring applicants who did not meet eligibility requirements. Using near real-time advanced analytics, the housing authority could adjust its training and outreach to those CoCs. With continued analysis of the data, the housing authority could determine whether its strategies reduced referrals of ineligible applicants. Data insights also revealed that referral quotas contributed to this trend leading state policymakers to remove them. The policy change, alongside focused training and outreach, has significantly improved the state’s EHV mission by balancing voucher availability with demand across the state.
Data and data analysis are essential to enacting these kinds of adjustments, which can greatly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of housing programs.
Easing government interaction for participants and unit owners
Applying for a government subsidy program is not easy—especially for homeless or those at risk of homelessness. Housing authorities and CoCs often help applicants understand program requirements and complete the required, complex forms. Likewise, if the process of accepting a housing subsidy or securing payment from the government is burdensome for landlords, they are less likely to accept vouchers for their rental units. Technology—applied with a user-centric approach—can help ease that burden.
For example, a key process within housing voucher programs such as EHV is the Request for Tenancy Approval (RFTA). HUD collects this information for each unit, in compliance with Section 8 of the US Housing Act of 1937, to determine whether the unit is eligible for rental assistance. Failure to complete the form—traditionally paper-based—accurately and completely can result in housing placement delays or even in rejection of voucher assistance.
By automating the process for data collection via electronic forms, CGI eased the process for submission, particularly for unit owners. The online interface allows for data validation in real-time, reducing likelihood of errors. If additional information is required post-submission, the information can be amended or updated easily online, eliminating the need to submit a new form. Automating this process will decrease delays associated with resubmission of RFTAs, meaning at-risk individuals and families can move more quickly into their new homes.
As HUD and housing authorities strive to address the homelessness crisis, they will continue to rely on grassroots efforts to identify at-risk individuals and families, helping those most in need gain access to critical programs. Data and technology play an important role in improving program outcomes, enabling agencies and their community-based partners to operate more efficiently and effectively. Learn more about CGI’s long history of delivering innovative solutions to support the affordable housing industry here.