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User Stories: The Importance of Building a Data Culture From the Start

HomeKeeper was designed to make it practical for homeownership programs to report on some of the most challenging but important long-term metrics; long term outcomes like the homeowner’s return on investment and the success of a program in maintaining the affordability of homes across multiple residents. But for many users, much simpler and immediately available data can be just as important. the most immediately valuable data is much simpler.

Northshore LogoThe Northshore Housing Initiative is a new Community community Land land Trust trust in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many local homes were destroyed and flood maps were redrawn in a way that created the need for redevelopment. The Parish auctioned many properties and pledged the proceeds to fund new affordable housing. Local residents worked with Michael Brown of Burlington Associates for several years to create the new land trust to manage this investment and preserve long-term affordability.

The new organization launched in 2014. Their initial project is a buyer-initiated program in which local residents prequalify and then find their own home in the market. The land trust invests public funds to bring the cost of the home down to a level that is affordable to its lower income buyers. The organization committed to funding 10 home purchases in its first year.

The organization’s Executive Director, (and initially its only staff member), Ann Borne, recognized immediately that they would need good data to keep local stakeholders informed and invested in the growth of the organization.

She began the process of building a data culture by sharing regular applicant pipeline data with her Board of Directors. The board members had been very involved in every aspect of the formation of the organization and the transition to professional staffing could have been challenging. FunnelBorne uses HomeKeeper to take online applications from potential homebuyers, to screen those buyers for eligibility and track their progress toward purchasing a home.  Each month she produces a pipeline chart to share with her board showing the €˜funnel’ of applications. At the funnel’s wide top are the total number of inquiries. Narrowing as it drops, the chart shows the smaller number or households that have completed the application process and finally it shows that 5 families have been approved and are actively seeking homes and two have already purchased. Borne describes the power of this simple chart: “When I say we have two properties it sounds like we have done nothing. But when I can show that we have 15 new inquiries this month I can show that we are picking up momentum.”

Even with very limited data, Norhshore has already found opportunities to use the data to make a stronger case for funding the organization. When Borne prepared for a meeting with one local foundation she learned that they were particularly focused on combating poverty. Because the Land Trust’s buyers all had to qualify for a bank mortgage, Borne figured that they might not be a good fit for this funder. But she logged into homekeeper and ran the numbers. “I was surprised to see that one of our 5 approved applicants makes just 30% of AMI. The spread was greater than I even thought it was once I looked at it in a report format. I was able to use the data to speak to the issue when we met with the funder.”

HomeKeeper was built to facilitate not just reporting on social performance but managing performance.   We have seen many cases where organizations have reflected on the more complex metrics that are included in the HomeKeeper Social Impact Reports and decided to change their practices in order to improve their results. It is far too soon to calculate metrics like return on investment for owners, but Northshore Housing Initiative has nonetheless found ways to put the small amount of data that they already have to work to help them do a better job of meeting local needs. St. Tammany Parrish is seen as being divided into two distinct areas, east and west. From the start, local leaders wanted to be sure that the organization served both parts of the Parrish and they were very careful to ensure that their first two homes fell on different sides of this divide. But over time, they won’t be able to exert quite so much control over where their approved buyers find houses. So Borne felt that it was important to maintain a map of the locations of their homes so that they could make sure that they generally served both parts of the Parrish. And she is working to create a regular map of her applicant’s addresses to ensure that they are drawing buyers from both areas.

The data driven organization no longer has to be a large organization with a dedicated evaluation team.   A data driven culture can be baked into the DNA of even the smallest organizations.

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