For almost three decades, HUD has implemented the Housing Choice Voucher (HVC) program with the specific intention of helping very low-income families, the disabled, veterans — helping, by the agency’s own description, people find and afford decent, safe, sanitary housing. It’s intentions are noble, and it has proven positive impact on reducing veteran homelessness, and helping families afford housing.
And while thousands of US citizens have benefitted from HVC and have been able to move into houses, apartments and townhomes they otherwise might not be able to afford, thousands more are waiting to access those same advantages. Why the wait? There are plenty of properties available, with property owners seemingly as eager to take advantage of the program as any potential tenant.
The challenge is that each property has to pass muster with HUD inspectors, who must certify that any residence is, quite simply, suitable for people to reside in. It needs to be structurally sound, compliant with current safety standards, have proper utility hookups, appropriate heating and cooling — any number of requirements that so many of us presume are a given when moving into a home.
Contending with the inherent laboriousness of the inspection process is why REAC has introduced a new inspection protocol, UPCS-V, which introduces new measures that reduce subjectivity and enhance objectivity (and thus consistency) of the property inspection process.
Let’s back up and explain why that standardization is important.
Any inspection is, understandably, conducted by an inspector — an individual who has a certain level of expertise and commensurate credibility. Of course, like any human pursuit, the subjectivity can vary profoundly from person to person; a property that might pass muster with one HUD inspector might not make the cut with another. Someone who gives a thumbs up on a Thursday before a holiday weekend might give that very same property a no-go on a Monday if they haven’t had their second cup of coffee.
That human factor has been a tremendous variable in inspection consistency. Ideally, an organization has a team of professionals who, whether by training, time in the field, or both, see things the same way. The result is a equitable evaluation program that doesn’t unduly punish owners or delay approved residences for prospective tenants. The U.S. Congress and HUD, of course, wants consistency and equality. They want an expertise-based system, but that only works when the experts all agree on established standards.
So, back to the challenge. What’s the remedy for the inevitable subjective variance inherent among even the most like-minded group of experts? Standardization.
The new mandate is straightforward in its objectives, which include:
- Clearly defined criteria and decision guides around deficiencies
- Reduced subjectivity as well as minimized data-entry errors
- Improved ability to provide additional detail on deficiencies
- Facilitation of peer comparison
- Adherence to current safety standards
- Increased tenant data transparency and requirement clarity
Of course, this all has to happen without increasing the overall inspector or PHA workload.
Meeting every facet of this challenge has been the driving force for the development and deployment of our Extensible Assessment Manager (ExAM) solution. For the past three years, our mission has been to align HUD’s needs for inspection standardization, automation and mobility, empowering their inspector ranks with a cloud-based platform that both accelerates the inspection process, and (more importantly) eliminates inconsistencies among inspectors. Standards are baked in, unfairness and inaccuracy are boiled out.
The real point I want to emphasize with ExAM, which we’ll profile in increasing detail in this space, is that the technology itself is just one aspect of how HUD will realize these new efficiencies with respect to UPCS-V. Sure, you can equip a workforce with mobile data access and information capture, and you’ll see an uptick in productivity. But in this case, it’s the standardization that the technology delivers that is the real game changer.
Following common protocols, reviewing consistent criteria, keeping everyone on the same page regardless of whether it’s an inspector’s first day in the field or they are a week away from retirement — this is why the program will be able to move more quickly through its backlog of houses and apartments eligible for inspection. This is why more people eligible for assistance will actually receive it. And this is why we’ll see more people in need get into the home they need. And like any significant systemic change, the transition will not be smooth — but we all agree the objective is noble. We share a commitment to improving the system, which is what drives this innovation and improvement.
Over the next few months, this blog will take a closer look at ExAM, HUD, UPCS-V and more, sharing insight, offering expertise, and illuminating our mindset as this solution takes hold.
Next time, “How did we come up with ExAM and where has it been used”.