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Designing Equitable, Fair Housing at HUD

The Challenge: From Identifying Barriers to Embedding Equity

Most scholars now agree that when, in the 1930s, the Federal Housing Authority (an office of HUD) rated African American neighborhoods as “risky” investments and refused to insure mortgages near and within them—a practice known as redlining—it contributed to the entrenchment of a racial opportunity gap in American society. In 1960, there was a 27-point gap between black homeownership (38%) and white homeownership (65%). Today, the gap is even wider.

As HUD’s leaders sought new paths to counter long-standing inequities, it made sense to give the HUD CX Team a prominent seat at the table. Looking at CX and inclusive design side-by-side, it’s hard to miss their complementary nature. Customer experience, as a discipline, strives to understand the customer’s needs and frustrations, and considers how every operational decision may help or hinder meeting those needs. Inclusive design functions similarly, but starts with a specific focus on the needs of persistently underserved populations and interrogating the systems that produce barriers for these groups.

To begin this new effort to build a fairer future for U.S. housing, the CX Team launched an assessment of HUD’s current practices aimed at identifying ways that they may still be inadvertently impeding progress toward equity.

The Approach: A CX Approach to Understanding Fair Housing Barriers

The Booz Allen team supporting the HUD CX Team established an approach to this assessment that combined customer experience frameworks and systems thinking methods. This approach can be summarized in four principles:

1.  There is not just one cause or one solution for inequity; inequities are complex and embedded in systems with many players.

2.  If the goal is to improve outcomes for underserved people, we must start with empathy: understanding the lived experience, needs, and barriers experienced by underserved people and communities.

3.  We must understand all of the factors that contribute to inequities before narrowing in on a specific solution to avoid overlooking critical barriers we have not considered.

4.  We need to understand how both HUD and outside actors contribute to inequities. We can’t solve issues by pointing fingers, but by making new connections and solving problems collaboratively

To more effectively promote fair homeownership access, HUD needs to be able to see and understand, from an organizational perspective, all of the possible barriers to such access, even and especially those that are subtle, hidden, or highly complex. To this end, the CX Team designed and hosted a series of four workshops with subject matter experts from across the agency. Over the course of a month, the practitioners built a common understanding of the homeownership lifecycle, uncovered barriers across the housing ecosystem, and identified and prioritized areas where HUD could intervene and make the most impact.

The Solution: Engaging Directly with Underserved Communities

The resulting list of barriers and opportunities was shared with leadership and reported on in the EO-mandated 200-day assessment. HUD’s leadership has since prioritized credit-related homeownership barriers as an area that warrants HUD intervention.

To inform the shape this action takes, members of HUD’s Homeownership Action Team are mobilizing alongside the HUD CX Team to engage directly with populations that have historically experienced credit-related barriers to homeownership, namely Black and Hispanic or Latinx individuals. The Team intends to conduct conversations with a broad selection of members from these populations to hear about and build a clear and accurate understanding of their relevant lived experiences.

This effort to engage directly with underserved communities is a critical milestone. HUD is building the capability to permanently add customer research as an essential stage in more of their processes. There is power in hearing the words directly from the public, and the CX Team looks forward to unpacking the insights that will inform near and long-term updates and improvements.

The Future: Permanently Embedding CX and Equity at HUD

In addition to diving more deeply into the subject of homeownership, the CX Team is helping HUD apply an equity lens to its work in many other areas. Planning for 2022-2026, HUD will become one of the first agencies to include a focus on CX and equity in its Strategic Plan. The CX Team has been working closely with all 14 of HUD’s Strategic Plan Objective Teams (SPOT)—groups of senior officials tasked with informing and implementing HUD’s strategic objectives—to identify how each objective can embed customer experience and equity principles into its attendant strategies. Special attention is being paid to providing the SPOTs with the tools they need to conduct effective customer research with equity in mind.

Learn about inclusive design at Booz Allen