Recently we had the opportunity to interview a member of HomeKeepers’ FormAssembly working group, Matt Warner, Program Director for Hello Stewardship, a program of Hello Housing. He is responsible for determining applicant eligibility and coordinating the loan process. His innovative online application process has saved at least 200 hours of staff time, provided more information to the most eligible people, and saved many applicants from the effort of the full application process that would have resulted in disqualification.
Briefly talk about your background.
I manage portfolios of below-market-rate homes and down payment assistance programs throughout the Bay Area. We currently manage over five-hundred homes and help developers with affordable housing requirements to help market and sell their units.
Our old process was to have everyone submit a paper application that included an inch thick list of supporting documents like tax returns, bank statements, paystubs, those sorts of things. We realized it was too staff intensive to review all that documentation. For example, we recently had a release of nine units in the city of Alameda and received about 450 applications. We needed to create a new process and use technology to help us whittle down staff time to sell some of these homes.
So, walk us through the new process you developed to handle processing all these applications.
We created a pre-application form with the most common disqualifying questions, such as income level and assets, which saved about one in five applicants from applying and being rejected. If they passed the pre-application stage, they would get a message like, “According to the information you’ve entered, you’re eligible. Congratulations. Here’s your lottery number.” Then we would hold the lottery and invite the top 50 for a workshop and invite them to submit a full application. We ended up with 28 completed full applications.
What was the purpose of the workshop?
Before everyone submitted all their paperwork, a workshop was held to go over the details and answer questions about the process. We also have a detailed FAQs on our website but oftentimes folks want to talk to someone. So the workshop made that manageable for us.
So, your new process included a quick online pre-application process, a lottery, a detail workshop, and review of the the full application by your staff?
Yes, this new process and the FormAssembly online applications forms has worked out great for us. We’re getting ready to replicate the process with about three more inclusionary projects that we’re planning to launch. It’s been great.
Is there anything that you wish you knew when you started that you know now?
Our communications templates were built for one project and were not very generic, so now we are going back and building in some merge fields so they can be used for multiple campaigns. I think we would have built it a little differently if we would have had the foresight of knowing it was going to work this well and use it for a number of programs going forward.
Any last comments?
Overall, I attribute a lot of our success to HomeKeeper’s FormAssembly partner, Franklin Joyce. He did a great job coaching us through the whole thing. I’m so entrenched in the BMR world and he really helped me look at it through a lens of someone who’s not in the below-market-rate homeownership world. They have to break everything down into digestible pieces and not use acronyms, that sort of a thing. It’s tough.
Would you recommend him and HomeKeeper to others?
Well, it is wonderful to see users like you running excellent below market rate programs. It is impressive how you structured the engagement to fulfill the mission, but fulfill it with much less work: less work on the part of the applicants and less work on the part of the staff. To me, this was a two-bird stone because you made it easier for the applicants, you gave them more information, and you made it easier on your staff. It’s rare you see this kind of both sides win. Thank you very much for your time.