Delivering Housing Relief During COVID

Screenshot of Minnesota COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program website.

About this Project

“HousingLink and Software for Good’s online application platform provided critical infrastructure for the success of the COVID-19 Housing Assistance program in a time of crisis and also demonstrated avenues for potential system improvements to the agency’s existing programs.”

— Hattie Hiler, Reporting Analyst, Minnesota Housing

 

The Challenge

In the summer of 2020, the state of Minnesota made $100 million dollars available for housing assistance and needed support to get it out to people.

As people lost work and income during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of families unable to pay their rent, mortgage, and/or utilities skyrocketed. This widespread need required public action, and with funding from the CARES Act, 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, knew a central access point for emergency housing assistance didn’t exist in Minnesota. Since we had partnered on the Housing Hub platform, their team saw an opportunity to build on the work we had already done together.

Could we turn our app into an emergency assistance portal… in 3 weeks?

 

Our Solution

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 more than $100 million in assistance.

“Your team did heroic work to design/build your database for COVID Housing Assistance Program. No easy task.”

— Beth, program administrator

 

These key factors made the project a success:

Trust.

We built on our existing relationship and HousingLink’s trust with Minnesota Housing.

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 logged into the system to review submissions, contact applicants for supporting documents and information, and approve payments. The state trusted us to solve the problem rather than dictating a prescribed solution.

 

Deploy a first solution quickly, then iterate.

We prioritized what we could accomplish quickly, knowing we could improve over time.

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. Each person applying was 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.

After the first launch, we continued building and refining as long as the program was active, adding new features to make the system more efficient and user-friendly. We sent the application out to program administrators to provide feedback before launch — and while the program was active, we conducted usability testing with some of those same administrators to understand their day-to-day experience and how the system could be improved.

 

Meet people where theyʼre at.

Don’t add trauma to an already hard situation.

To make the application as accessible and inclusive as possible, we offered recommendations such as simplifying question language and designing the application forms to be more inclusive. And one of the major improvements we made after launch was removing a signature requirement that created a burden and delays for applicants.

The United Way was another partner for the program, inviting people in need of assistance to use the 2-1-1 helpline to sign up for the program. We built the software to support this approach to applying, creating an alternative path for 2-1-1 navigators filling out the forms on behalf of applicants.

“My family will forever remain grateful to you and the state for helping us pay our bills in this crisis time. This is God at work through the kindness of your hearts. This legacy of your kindness towards our family will live on in many meaningful ways. Thank you so much.”

— program applicant

 

The Result

Success! First time Minnesota distributed housing assistance emergency funds statewide through a single platform

In just 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. At a time when many people are struggling, we’re proud to support direct relief for those in need.

$70 million+

in funds distributed

70,553

assistance requests from 63,164 applicants

54%

of applicants are Black, Indigenous, and people of color

22%

of applicants have experienced homelessness

 

“To the team at Software for Good, that built the software programming, thank you all.”

— Minnesota Governor Tim Walz thanking the partners behind the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program launch





 

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Services

Web Application Development, User Experience Strategy, Usability Testing

Technology

Ruby on Rails, Amazon Web Services