Spreadsheets and more spreadsheets. For One Roof Community Housing in Minnesota, this traditional method of managing the organization’s large amounts of affordable housing information simply wasn’t working.

“We had a number of different Excel spreadsheets that individual employees would keep up on their own that pertained to their own needs,” said Julie Petrusha, the housing development coordinator for One Roof Community Housing. “We’d spend an enormous amount of time trying to track and locate data.”

They knew there had to be a better way. That’s when they found HomeKeeper. With this powerful web-based tool, One Roof Community Housing can now track their data and manage their complex housing information all in one place. No more complicated spreadsheets. The tool also allowed them to create meaningful and custom reports with a few simple steps.

“When I printed the first report and showed it to our finance director she was thrilled, indicating it was the best and most precise information that we have ever had in one report,” Petrusha said.

A Bottom-Up Solution

One Roof Community Housing’s data management challenge is a familiar problem. Across the nation, non-profits and local governments that manage affordable home ownership programs struggle with how to efficiently manage data and produce quality reports on the impact of their hard work, without further burdening already over-worked staffs.

HomeKeeper, a program of Grounded Solutions Network, offers an innovative solution this age-old problem. Built in the cloud on the popular Salesforce.com platform, HomeKeeper is a web-based application that helps affordable homeownership programs track, manage and report on housing data. HomeKeeper improves efficiencies and effectiveness for community land trusts, Habitat for Humanity affiliates, and other organizations that are creating and monitoring homes with ongoing affordability restrictions.

The real beauty of the HomeKeeper, said Tiffany Eng, program director for HomeKeeper, is that the solution was built from the bottom up with direct input from the people who use it.

“Together with our partners, we designed and built HomeKeeper from the ground up in response to what the sector needed and wanted,” Eng said. “We didn’t set out to build a software product, we were trying to solve real problems, while at the same time, help programs use evidence to better understand what works.”

Making Jobs Easier and Programs Better

HomeKeeper is designed around the daily workflow of a homeownership program administrator. The cloud-based app can be accessed from any desktop or mobile device to capture and manage valuable data on homes, homeowners, loans and grants, transactions and more. Users can instantly pull from this data to not only help run their daily operations, but also to measure and report on their progress and impact in the community.

“Whatever data we need to track for grants, funders or reports, HomeKeeper can make it easier,” said David Ogunsanya of Athens Land Trust in Georgia.

For instance, Athens Land Trust uses HomeKeeper to track individuals who are interested in their program. Ogunsanya said he groups prospective homebuyers by income, and when a property becomes available in their price range, HomeKeeper allows him to quickly run a report and contact the group with information about the home.

“It’s much easier than running through a million spreadsheets and papers,” he said.

In addition to tracking homebuyers, number of homes sold, households served and other traditional metrics, programs can use HomeKeeper to track and report on more revealing metrics, such as the return on investment for sellers, the growth of community investment over time, and the extent of affordability created by the program.

“HomeKeeper steps up users’ ability to manage a program successfully. It’s a gamechanger,” Eng said. “They are able to be a data-driven organization, answer questions more quickly, and share their story faster and more effectively with all of their stakeholders, including board of directors, funders, policymakers and homeowners.”

A Growing Community

Released to the public in 2012, HomeKeeper has grown to 70 participating organizations. This includes 36 community land trusts, 14 Habitat for Humanity affiliates and five cities.

Julie Brunner, housing manager for OPAL Community Land Trust in Washington state, said HomeKeeper has changed the way her organization does business.

“HomeKeeper helps me do my job. It helps me do everything from qualifying families, to managing resales, to attracting grants,” Brunner said. “Having access to such a powerful tool has revolutionized the way we’ve done our business, and it’s really changed it so that we not only do things more efficiently, but we do them better.”

In addition to improving programs with better data, HomeKeeper serves as a community of networking and support for affordable homeownership programs.

“In addition to supporting our users, we are working to build a community by connecting users to each other so they can share challenges, ideas and solutions,” Eng said.

In early 2017, HomeKeeper became a HUD-approved counseling management system. This feature allows affordable homeownership programs, which also provide housing counseling, to track counseling activity in HomeKeeper, eliminating the need to use a secondary system for reporting to HUD and other funders.

Eng said the new feature is an example of how HomeKeeper continues to respond to what affordable homeownership programs want.

“It’s always about the users and how we can support them and their programs,” she said. “The housing counseling features had been a long-standing request from some of our users. We heard them, and we used their input and feedback to expand HomeKeeper to better meet their needs.”

The Big Picture

By using HomeKeeper, organizations are doing much more than improving their own programs; they are collecting valuable data that can help affordable homeownership programs throughout the nation.

“HomeKeeper is part of our ambitious effort at the local, regional and national level to not only improve program management practice, but also collectively measure impact,” Eng said.

When an organization joins HomeKeeper, its account is linked to the HomeKeeper National Data Hub. A subset of the organization’s HomeKeeper data is automatically forwarded to this national database, which seamlessly aggregates the data to create public reports on the sector’s collective social impact. The data hub also generates individual benchmarking reports that allow HomeKeeper members to compare their performance to the averages of their peers.

“The data from our users makes a round-trip journey, adding value to their programs and the sector as a whole as it is aggregated, analyzed and then shared back with users,” Eng said. “

The HomeKeeper National Data Hub has detailed information on almost 6,000 properties and data on more than 7,300 purchases. This data is used to measure shared outcomes, as well as to identify and promote industry standards and best practices across the affordable homeownership sector.

The hub data also provides valuable sector insight for informing policy and research that benefit programs across the U.S. For example, in 2016, HomeKeeper Hub data was used to help convince the Federal Housing Finance Agency to incorporate shared equity homeownership as part of the its Duty to Serve rule that requires Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to increase lending to underserved homebuyers.

“The sector as a whole benefits from the HomeKeeper National Data Hub,” Eng said. “Newer organizations (startups) can tell their stakeholders and funders, ‘Here’s how programs like ours have helped communities across the country.’ Larger, high-capacity organizations can extract actionable insights and make program adjustments to maximize impact.”

HomeKeeper: The Future of our Sector

HomeKeeper is helping to shape the future of the national sector, and for the participating HomeKeeper organizations, it has proven to be an essential tool in their daily effort to ensure affordable housing is an option for all families.

“If you are an organization that tracks large amounts of information related to affordable housing, please do not give HomeKeeper a second thought—just do it,” said Petrusha of One Roof Community Housing. “The amount of administrative time it will save you in the end will be worth your while.”

Note: This article was originally featured in Grounded Solutions Network’s 2017 Impact Report.  Read the original article.