Powering a Statewide System for Emergency Housing Relief

About this Project

As people have lost work and income during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of families unable to pay their rent, mortgage, and/or utilities has skyrocketed. This widespread need required public action, and in the summer of 2020, the state of Minnesota created the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program to offer relief.

Software for Good’s client HousingLink, which provides affordable housing information and access, saw an opportunity to build on the work we had already done together to create the Housing Hub platform. With the state eager to launch the assistance program as soon as possible, we sprang into action to build the software application, crafting a system to support people across Minnesota applying for a total of more than $20 million in assistance.

The tool had to combine clear, accessible forms for applicants with a robust back end to support the review and approval process. To manage applications and distribute funding, administrators from 44 agencies across the state log into the system to review submissions, contact applicants for supporting documents and information, and approve payments. The United Way is another partner for the program, inviting people in need of assistance to use the 2-1-1 helpline to sign up for the program and submit their applications.

Software for Good worked closely with HousingLink to manage all of the project requirements, holding daily virtual meetings to review progress, prioritize features, and work through testing and bugs. Key features include allowing administrators to update an applicant’s status as they move through the process, and assigning a unique PIN to people applying through the 2-1-1 system. Each person applying must be assigned to one of the partner agencies for approval; we worked with Minnesota Housing and HousingLink to determine the most efficient technical solution that would also be simple for applicants to navigate.

To make the application as accessible and inclusive as possible, we offered recommendations such as simplifying question language and using a single name field instead of “First Name” and “Last Name.” We sent the application out for testing with program administrators to provide feedback before launch — and after the program was up and running, we conducted usability testing with some of those same administrators to understand their day-to-day experience and how the system could be improved.

In the first month after its launch, the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program received requests for more than $30 million in rent, mortgage, and utilities relief. And we continued building and refining as long as the program was active, working closely with HousingLink and their partners to identify opportunities for improvement and add new features to make the system more efficient and user-friendly. At a time when many people are struggling, we’re proud to support direct relief for those in need.

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Web Application Development, User Experience Strategy, Usability Testing


Ruby on Rails

Screenshot of Minnesota COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program website.