The latest version of HomeKeeper allows agencies and programs the option to add custom values to the demographic fields Race, Ethnicity or Primary Language Spoken. This feature could help represent communities more authentically, and allows staff to prepare reports using local terms, while still including program data in HUD reporting and the HomeKeeper National Data Hub.

Expanding Race, Ethnicity and Language Tracking is Overdue

Three people sit on a bench in front of a wall that shows faces of people of different ethnicities, backgrounds and skin colors.

When HomeKeeper was designed alongside housing sector staff, we included the options available from HUD to inform these 3 demographic fields: Race, Ethnicity or Primary Language Spoken. The government categories to describe these characteristics are managed by the Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

HomeKeeper and our first users always knew these lists leave people out, or misrepresent populations. We made the imperfect decision to group data in categories informed by HUD for impact reporting, an example of when data is segmented “to facilitate reporting necessary for service funding” (Lopez/Adams, 6 Ways to Put Equality in Your CRM)

We know the words that the government (and other entities) use to categorize people is influenced by structural racism. For example, past and recent changes to the census, ongoing discussion influencing the census, and the frequent OMB revisions to their terms since the 1700s. Recent finding from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition have shown how tracking borrowers’ country of origin reveals disparities within the Asian American and Pacific Islander racial group.  

Responding to Requests from Users

Multiple users have asked HomeKeeper about adding custom values to the fields Race, Ethnicity or Primary Language Spoken to take steps towards better identifying and representing the people served by their program. Users also request this to facilitate reporting to funders other than HUD.

Prior to HomeKeeper version 2.5, for example, adding an Ethnicity option of “Latino” worked as expected for program and client-facing use – but those records caused errors in 9902 reporting, and were not counted in the HomeKeeper National Data Hub. HUD options to track Ethnicity are limited to “Hispanic” or “Not Hispanic”, and who describes themselves as Hispanic is an ongoing conversation.

New Feature Offers Chance for Conversations

HomeKeeper version 2.5 allows programs to revisit how you track client demographics, but it should be mindfully implemented. If you already segment your race, ethnicity and language data differently than HUD, on your paper forms or in your counseling conversations and reporting, this feature will no doubt simplify your reporting.

But if you’ve only used the existing HUD values, the HomeKeeper team recommends your team first consult community members, residents and clients before making changes. For example, ask “Do you see yourself reflected in our application language? How about our annual report?”. After these conversations have led to a consensus, use HomeKeeper release notes for technical instructions on mapping your new custom values for HUD or Data Hub reporting.

Need help starting those conversations? Grounded Solutions’ Racial Equity Resources offer a place to start. But no reading is a replacement for conversations with local folks who identify as that race or ethnicity. As mentioned in the Prosperity Now resource Communicating on Race and Racial Economic Equity, “As much as possible, follow a person’s preference in describing themselves.”

HomeKeeper and the Grounded Solutions team will continue to be part of the ongoing conversation about how to track race, ethnicity, and language options to represent everyone – and we hope you will too.