HomeKeeper was excited to launch our Housing Counseling features in 2017, which gave our 10 Early Adopters the ability to report directly to HUD. We quickly discovered many organizations have reporting requirements in addition to or separate from HUD, which means their counseling data had to be prepared for intermediaries, such as NeighborWorks. Often, client’s information was living in HomeKeeper, but not formatted or calculated as requested by NeighborWorks reporting.
Putting it Together
After identifying this need, HomeKeeper hired a consultant and worked with two groups that report to NeighborWorks to develop and test custom features that allow them to report quarterly data to NeighborWorks America. Zachary Wittrock, a long-time HomeKeeper user at One Roof Community Housing, completed the consulting work to create a NeighborWorks reporting pathway.
Zach is an experienced HomeKeeper administrator who isn’t afraid of tackling new things and creating complex formula fields. We spoke to Zach about how this solution was developed.
How did you tackle this project?
I was able to speak with a coworker who had first-hand experience with NeighborWorks reporting to get the process started. Most of my time was spent reviewing NeighborWorks resources, trying to get every value in HomeKeeper to conform to NeighborWorks assumptions, and working closely with the two partner organizations to move things closer to a first draft version of the reporting buildout. This meant asking questions about where this data was stored and how the different pieces that were needed for the NeighborWorks report were related to each other.
What do these reporting pathway features do?
Bottom line: Organizations who use HomeKeeper can take a step out of CMAX or other software programs. This can reduce time spent on double data entry, as well as the frustrations that are inherent in using a software program that is not customizable.
The reporting pathway includes additional fields, including a BETA version of fields that indicate data completeness to the user. Information is entered through HomeKeeper’s housing counseling features and is collected and transformed through workflows and formulas into the format that NeighborWorks expects. All of the new “NW” fields are prepared in reports that were created according to the questions NeighborWorks is currently asking.
What do you wish you’d known?
It’s one thing to develop a solution for a process you’ve been a part of. It’s another to develop a solution for something you where you have only an abstract understanding. I ended up relying a lot on data dictionaries and this created some flaws. For example, it is common to only include a given client in the Clients report OR the Financial Capabilities report – not both. A user who was familiar with this process knew this, and quickly identified a report filter that resolved the issue of the client appear in both types of reports.
Features to Simplify a Process
Users who received the NeighborWorks reporting pathway were optimistic about reporting.
“While there was trial and error, our education team is much happier. By adding a few extra fields, we’ve been able to stop using our old spreadsheets,” explained Jaclyn Marcotte at Champlain Housing Trust. Windham and Windsor Housing Trust also worked with these features and offered valuable feedback, and the users elected to work on a user guide as a joint project.
Currently, three Vermont organizations plan to use the NeighborWorks reporting pathway in HomeKeeper to meet future reporting requirements. On behalf of Grounded Solutions, HomeKeeper was glad we were able to fund these customizations to provide this solution for these users. It provided useful insight into how counselors are working, and where our existing counseling features could go in the future.