November 16, 2021
The 2021 NAHRO Online National Conference and Exhibition on October 7-8 gathered hundreds of affordable housing and community development professionals across the nation to discuss solutions to help move the industry forward. During the conference, Mary Beth Snyder (formerly Parker), Director of Product Management at Equifax led a panel session focused on “Streamlining Housing Assistance Determinations with Automated Data.”
Three leaders from housing authorities shared their views on improving the housing assistance verifications process:
The three panelists compared experiences and shared insights related to how the need for quick access to relevant data can help housing agencies improve the applicant experience, protect program integrity and help caseworkers deal with unprecedented volume. These leaders and agencies, like many across the country, have seen first-hand the economic impact of the pandemic, as well as the changes and opportunities made available by the various stimulus packages. Ultimately, the conversation focused in three areas:
Even prior to the pandemic, Tracy Jones reported that the City of Atlanta had begun moving towards data automation and integration to improve productivity for their teams. Once the pandemic hit, the focus shifted to addressing the needs of families first and foremost, as they worked to figure out how automated data could make the housing assistance process easier for those in need. Tasked with serving more than 11,000 families while working remotely amid COVID-19, The Housing Authority of the City of Atlanta had to move away from paper-based processes for their families seemingly overnight. As they have quickly worked to adopt new technologies, “Implementing automation and integration has been instrumental to not only our productivity as an agency, but also at being able to meet the requirements needed to get our families housing in a timely manner,” said Jones.
Verification of income is essential to the housing assistance application and recertification process used to determine applicant eligibility, and by tapping into automated income and employment data through The Work Number® database from Equifax, The Housing Authority of the City of Atlanta was able to speed up the process. Instead of relying on applicants to hand deliver pay stubs to verify income – and caseworkers to track down multiple third-party sources to verify employment – they were able to make life easier for applicants in an increased time of need by leveraging new technologies and automated data to verify applicant-provided information instantly. Even after office doors began to open again, Jones said these new processes will continue to be beneficial to the many families and individuals that are unable to meet in-person due to disabilities or lack of reliable transportation.
At the Housing Authority of DeKalb County (HADC), they believe, “People working with processes plus products impact people in a proactive way,” said Harold Blake, Jr. Through his work at HADC, Blake is always looking to bring new ideas, solutions and technologies to improve processes and provide faster relief to those in need.
As with other housing authorities, when the pandemic hit, they had to adjust their workflows, embracing change through automation from the old paper environment in a way that benefited their customers. To do this, they made adjustments to their operations, upgraded all in-office platforms to remote and virtual processing and worked with partners such as Equifax to identify ways to make their processes more efficient. Leveraging automated income and employment data through The Work Number database enabled the agency to continue providing efficient service to their customers, while also streamlining and providing quicker results across each stage of the verification process, from initial verification at application, to interim and annual re-certifications – despite changing needs. Their speed-to-results time improved, and as a result, customer satisfaction feedback improved as well.
The Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority also relies on The Work Number service for every initial, interim and annual recertification, according to Pamela Jones Watford. She said that in addition to leveraging automated income and employment data to help streamline the verifications process, using The Work Number service has helped them identify hire dates, end dates and changes in income or jobs. In addition, some of their applicants receive payment from employers through mobile apps rather than physical checks, and some employees don’t know how to access pay stubs via computer, so having The Work Number we get information right away. Using data from The Work Number database to identify dates of employment and hire dates has helped the agency realize when there might be income missing outside of typical pay stubs.
The Housing Authority of the City of Atlanta has also identified ways to provide more proactive service to their customers by tapping into automated income and employment data through The Work Number database. Jones said many applicants experience frequent job turnover, making keeping up with income and employment reporting requirements difficult for their customers. “The Work Number helps the agency help families stay on top of reporting income, which can be a challenge for families if they have frequent job turnover,” Jones said. By using The Work Number service, the agency can proactively identify any changes in income and work with the applicant to adjust rent early to help avoid repayment plans ensuring the client continues receiving housing assistance. Across the experiences of each of the panelists representing three housing authorities, they all were able to use automated data to streamline processes in a way that addressed their own unique needs, helping them be more efficient and proactive as they prepare for potential increases in housing vouchers.
As housing authorities across the nation have realized the benefits of automated income and employment data to improve the verifications process, they are also beginning to look for other types of data to further help streamline the decisioning process.
At the Housing Authority of DeKalb County, Blake said their goal is to identify solutions that integrate data to facilitate a more streamlined eligibility determinations process, from verifying income and employment data, to education data and incarceration data. “Ideally, we are working to become a one stop shop,” he said.
As housing authorities continue to adapt to changing needs to meet increased demand, all three panelists look forward to tapping into expanded capabilities from Equifax to leverage additional types of data such as financial assets, property, and incarceration data to better support those in need.
By incorporating current, automated data into their benefits eligibility determinations and recertification processes, all three housing authority leaders have helped their organizations continue to deliver on their mission. Despite uncertainty – and the challenges of the past year – investments now in data-driven solutions to streamline processes helps housing authorities prepare for the future to continue supporting Americans in need.