Originally posted on the What Counts for America blog, reposted with permission.
Homestead Community Land Trust’s staff were confident they were meeting their overall targets in providing homeownership opportunities for low-income households in Seattle–that is, until they opened a report that showed their data in context. They weren’t meeting their goals of serving Hispanic families.
Insights like these have the potential to be transformative, but collecting and analyzing the data often feels like more work than it’s worth. What if a tool that staff used to do their daily work could capture impact data with no extra effort? That is the mission of HomeKeeper, an app created byCapital Impact Partners and Cornerstone Partnership that allows staff who work with low-income homebuyers to quickly access the information they need to run their programs. Depending on the organization, this could mean accepting applications, managing grants, keeping a waitlist up to date, tracking a sale or verifying current owners are still occupying their homes.
With a core set of features geared toward common tasks across homeownership programs, HomeKeeper is a relational database built in “the cloud” on the powerful Salesforce.com platform. Because HomeKeeper is a cloud-based app, organizations no longer have to worry about moving programs from computer to computer, open document conflicts, or locating information when staff are out.
Through grants provided by the Salesforce Foundation, the programs that use HomeKeeper, like Homestead Community Land Trust, can use the same technology as large for-profit companies, at a fraction of the cost. HomeKeeper organizations are a diverse group, from community land trusts to Habitat for Humanity affiliates to city governments.
As Annie Donovan and Rick Jacobus write in their chapter of What Counts: Harnessing Data for America’s Communities, HomeKeeper is a tool made by and for homeownership program practitioners to manage their day-to-day work flow while also enabling staff to quickly and easily measure their performance and compare it to their peers.
HomeKeeper users are able to do this comparison because of the HomeKeeper National Data Hub. The hub is a repository of select data from users across the country. Currently 53 programs have agreed to collect the “National Roll Up Fields,” a set of data points about programs’ properties, buyers, and financing. When staff enter information about buyers, properties, and finances, a select subset of that data is anonymously aggregated in the Hub.
Homestead and other programs then receive a “Social Impact Report,” which presents their program’s data in a series of charts on demographics, initial affordability, preservation of affordability, wealth building, and security of tenure. The report also allows programs to compare their work with national data, putting their efforts in perspective.
Because HomeKeeper allows users to do their jobs more easily and has the flexibility to meet almost any organizational need, frontline staff simply need to do their jobs in order to collect impact data. During the initial adoption of HomeKeeper, users may find they need to change their procedures or add a field to their application, but once they’re collecting the data as part of their day-to-day practice, they don’t need to jump through any other hoops to generate a report for a funder or understand their performance.
The Homestead team used their Social Impact Report of HomeKeeper data to track their success in meeting key targets. One of those targets was serving households of color, and it was the one area where they realized they were falling short. In Seattle, only 6% of the program’s households were Hispanic, while 9% of their target income population was Hispanic. The gap prompted the Homestead team to rework their procedures for Spanish speakers. They also hired more interpreters for the intake, legal document review, and signing processes. Once Homestead began to interact with their data, they continued to ask other questions, like how the interpreters can better serve households even after they’ve purchased their home.
Asking whether they were serving their target population didn’t require time spent filling out a researcher’s spreadsheet, digging out old files or reshuffling resources. The data had been already captured in HomeKeeper, and the Social Impact Report provided context. Through the national data in its report, Homestead’s team could see this is an issue for other shared equity homeownership programs nationwide. They’ve presented their story of expanding capacity for limited-English households to peer organizations who face the same challenge.
There are many tasks still ahead. There’s a daily balance between improving HomeKeeper as a day-to-day program management tool and making it easier for users to enter accurate data to receive a performance report.
Not everyone who receives a report understands everything in it. Because of the diverse nature of HomeKeeper’s user base, individual comparisons to the national sector aren’t equally meaningful for every organization. As HomeKeeper’s staff, we’re hoping to continue to give HomeKeeper users easier ways of understanding their data within an appropriate context, whether that be chronological, geographical, or by peer group.
As HomeKeeper makes impact data easier to understand, homeownership programs can take actions to better serve their clients, as Homestead has. We’re confident more households can be served, in better programs, now that those programs have access to both national data and lessons learned from across the sector.
About the author: Elizabeth Haney has been the Member Support Specialist for HomeKeeper since May 2013. She is responsible for onboarding new user organizations, user trainings, creating documentation and responding to user requests. She is a former HomeKeeper user with extensive experience in a broad range of non-profits, working at UVMEND’s SHARE Community Land Trust in Leavenworth, WA for a year, as well as at TransCultural Exchange, a international art nonprofit and the Center of Concern, a progressive Catholic advocacy organization in Washington, DC. Liz has been able to bring her experience working on policies and procedures at UV MEND as well as HomeKeeper to her position with Cornerstone. Liz received her Bachelors degree from Boston College.
About Cornerstone Partnership: Cornerstone Partnership promotes strong, integrated communities where all people can afford a decent place to live & thrive. We provide expertise on policy & practice, and we support a network of housing practitioners, advocates, and elected officials in strengthening their capacity & impact.
About Capital Impact Partners: Capital Impact Partners transforms underserved communities into strong, vibrant places of opportunity for people at every stage of life. We deliver strategic financing, incubate new social programs and provide technical assistance to help ensure that low to moderate income individuals have access to quality health care and education, healthy foods, affordable housing and the ability to age with dignity. A nonprofit community development financial institution, Capital Impact Partners has disbursed more $2 billion to revitalize communities over the last 30 years. Headquartered in Arlington, VA, Capital Impact Partners operates nationally with local offices in Detroit, MI and Oakland, CA.