Over the past few months, we at AMA have done a ton to research the needs of Public Housing Agencies/Authorities. And we’ve come across 2 problem areas super common to most PHAs right now:
- Increase in expiring vouchers
I know those are pretty big topics that some of you may feel you can’t do much to change. And you’re right, there’s a lot to talk about, but we have broken it down for you, so you can see some success in these areas.
Let’s start with the issue that we’ve found is most prevalent amongst PHAs today.
Problem area: Backlog
Even under the best circumstances, backlog is an issue most PHAs feel like just won’t go away. And because of this, many times we just accept it as part of the job and keep going.
What if I told you there was a solution that could significantly improve your backlog problems?
Solution: Switch from a case management approach to a functional approach!
What exactly does this mean?
Most PHAs operate from a case management approach…one case manager handles everything from start to finish for each applicant they are assigned to. While this approach has its benefits, it does come with a significant drawback.
In certain circumstances it can intensify backlog, which leads to bottlenecks, which result in delays. And we all know, delays mean more calls from tenants and landlords which results in increased frustration for everyone. And all of that actually creates even more backlog.
Then there’s the functional approach. This approach delegates staff members to a specific task. Meaning, certain staff members would work on moves, some would work on recertifications, some on reasonable accommodations and so on.
There are two huge benefits to utilizing the functional approach:
1. It allows you to assign additional staff to whatever area has the biggest backlog.
A great example of this working really well is during the busy season. We all know we have extra moves and recertifications to attend to during summer months. With the functional approach, you can easily move a few extra staff members to those processes in order to avoid the usual bottleneck and keep things in forward motion.
The other major benefit is…
2. Completing the same process repeatedly ensures your staff will become much more confident, efficient, and productive in their roles!
When you do repetitive tasks, they become second nature, and thus, it requires less brain power and effort to accomplish. Your staff will be able to complete many more of the same tasks in the same amount of time, with much less effort.
It really embodies the saying, “Work smarter, not harder.”
Every PHA is different, but if you’re looking to make this switch, the first step is to create a transitional plan. A transitional plan is simply a step-by-step strategy on how you’ll implement this change from the casework model to a functional approach. It considers the specific needs of your agency and helps you determine what adjustments need to take place in order to successfully make the conversion.
Once you have that data, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- How many staff members do we need to dedicate to areas of backlog to clear our resources and get us back on track?
- How long do we estimate it will take for our agency to get caught up?
- What other areas are being negatively impacted by backlog? Once you can answer this question, you can apply the same steps above to address each adjacent problem area.
- Do we have adequate staff to successfully support the transition? This transition won’t be possible without the right employees and the right number of employees.
- Which areas does our staff have the most experience? The adjustment period will be more efficient if you are able to dedicate the team members proficient in certain skillsets to those particular problem areas.
- Is there extra training needed to help strengthen our team? Having a staff who is fully trained and interchangeable is like having a golden key! Remember, your goal is to be more productive and efficient. For this format to be successful, we need to be able to move staff around to any backlogged task, at any time.
Problem area: Increase in Expiring Vouchers
The average rent has increased more than 20% nationwide in the last year, with many cities seeing increases of 30-40%. And even though HUD has updated their FMR, they only do so once per year. So, as rental prices continue to rise, families are having to search for housing with voucher amounts that could be far below the rental prices. If landlords are not willing to drop their prices to accommodate voucher-holders, they will run out of time to find adequate housing before their vouchers expire.
This is an area that will likely only get worse as rental prices are predicted to continue to rise to unprecedented levels. While you probably feel like there really isn’t much you can do, we want to offer you a creative solution that may not have been considered…
Solution: Take a look at your administrative plan.
HUD regulates that PHAs must give participants at least 60 days to search for housing, but PHAs can offer more. This would be done by amending your administrative plan to offer additional extensions to voucher expiration dates, as needed. For the families who need it, it could be the difference between finding housing and being terminated from the program.
We know the process for amending your administrative plan isn’t the same for every PHA. It will vary greatly depending on the structure your agency has in place. So, your first step is to determine what the steps are for your PHA to begin this process. Whether it is through your board of directors or some other method, find out who you have to talk to in order to initiate this process and keep in mind the following:
- Take it one step at a time and just make sure you follow your agency’s procedures to the letter. It would be a shame to be denied on a technicality.
- Clarify which exact parts of the admin plan need to be adjusted in order to make the needed changes. Targeting the specific policies and procedures that need to be adjusted will save time and confusion.
- Be prepared and know exactly what you want to say. Do your research so you know what the parameters set by HUD are. Doing this will ensure that what you are proposing is an allowable change.
- Have the data to back up your proposition. Numbers don’t lie so don’t be afraid to bring the facts and statistics that prove your point.
The Agency Loop
What we call “The Agency Loop” consists of utilizing quality control and stakeholder feedback to help you get ahead of any potential issues. It can easily become part of your regular agency “housekeeping” routine. We review the data provided to us by quality control measures, then receive feedback from stakeholders in the process, and coordinate staff and needs to make the suggested changes, then implement these corrections to your process.
Scheduling a QC review will let you know how successful your agency has been at implementing any new policies or procedures. It will highlight any areas that might still need attention, additional staff, or training. Once you know of any remaining or new problem areas, you can develop an action plan for addressing those items, and it doesn’t have to slow you down.
Whoever your stakeholders are…whether staff, landlords, or tenants…you need to provide an accessible and reliable channel for communication. This also comes with a level of responsibility. If you are going to offer a channel for communication, you need to be accountable for the information that comes through. The information is only valuable if it is utilized.
Merging these two pieces of input allows you to create a comprehensive administrative action plan. This plan not only outlines what’s needed, but it also identifies who will complete which parts of the change and sets the agency up for success.
All that’s left from there is to implement the changes.
While some days it feels like we can never get ahead, every problem is simply an opportunity for growth and success. When we change our perspective, we have the potential to change the outcome of every challenge we face.