Minnesota's COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program offered relief for people unable to pay rent, mortgage and/or utilities because of the pandemic. HousingLink knew the state lacked central access for emergency housing assistance. They saw an opportunity to partner with Software for Good and create an assistance portal on quick turnaround.
We adapted the existing Housing Hub platform to support the assistance program, combining clear forms for applicants with a robust back end for administration. Program staff from 44 agencies logged in to review submissions, contact applicants for supporting documents, and approve payments.
Software for Good worked closely with HousingLink to manage requirements, holding daily calls to review progress. Key features included allowing administrators to update applicant statuses, and assigning a unique PIN to people applying through United Way's 2-1-1. Each person applying was assigned to a partner agency for approval; we worked with Minnesota Housing and HousingLink to find an efficient technical solution that would be simple for applicants.
Our team offered usability recommendations including simplified question language, and tested the application with program administrators to provide feedback. Once the program had launched, we tested again with some of those same administrators to understand how to improve the system.
Project Outcomes and Impact
The COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program launched successfully, and was the first time Minnesota distributed housing assistance emergency funds statewide through a single platform.
In just the first month after its launch, the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program received requests for more than $30 million in rent, mortgage, and utilities relief. Ultimately, more than $70 million was distributed. The portal helped the state respond to 70,553 assistance requests from 63,164 applicants. 54% of applicants were Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and 22% of applicants have experienced homelessness.
One of the project leads, Minnesota Housing's reporting analyst Hattie Hiler, said, “HousingLink and Software for Good’s online application platform provided critical infrastructure for the success of the COVID-19 Housing Assistance program in a time of crisis and also demonstrated avenues for potential system improvements to the agency’s existing programs.”
After observing the barrier created by a required paper form, we updated the platform to accept digital signatures. We will push for this on future projects because of challenges with PDF/paper forms. Such changes illustrate the value of iteration and flexibility, which we will apply to future government projects.