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Revealed – What is the US’s least satisfying federal department and how can it improve?
by Steve Foley

The numbers in the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s 2019 Federal Government Report make for grim reading. Down by 1.2% to 68.1 on its 100-point scale, the results mark the second year of decline in citizen satisfaction with federal government services. The two biggest reasons for the dive across all federal agencies was ‘timeliness and ease of government process’ and ‘professionalism and courtesy of customer service’.

Crawling in at last place among all federal departments – now for the third year running – is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). An agency that has reduced veteran homelessness by 24% since 2010[1] and helped more than 4 million American families buy homes since 2014, is now more unpopular than the Internal Revenue Service. The share of housing units with foreclosure filings has been declining since 2010 and, now at 0.36%, it is at its lowest point since 2005[2]. So why is the department still despised?

The housing crisis in America is well documented. The number of low-income families needing support is now more than 11 times the number that the HUD has helped according to some estimates[3]. It’s likely that this is going to shape perceptions of the government department responsible for affordable housing. However, it’s worth remembering that convenience and customer service were the two main reasons of decline, so there are things that the department can do to win back favor.

More flexibility during inspections

Landlords will be familiar with the fact that if they rent to ‘Section 8’ low-income tenants with HUD-issued housing vouchers, their property needs to pass a health and safety inspection. It’s not uncommon for inspections to happen annually, but they can also be prompted if a tenant makes a complaint. In most cases, owners will be alerted in advance of their appointment, but the service currently offers very little flexibility for either landlord or tenant to pick a date and time that works for them.

In cases prompted by a security issue, this makes sense. But for routine visits, moving to a system where a landlord receives a message inviting them to pick from a handful of options available near to when their inspection is due will increase the perceptions of the service. This is possible to manage with AI and would result in a much more positive experience.

Better communication on long waiting lists

While the median wait time for affordable housing is 18 months[4], it’s not uncommon for it to take four times as long. Ultimately, the only thing that will truly get satisfaction levels up is getting the wait time down, but there are solutions that HUD can employ in the meantime. Using AI to ‘check in’ and keep people updated about their process could completely change the perception that the department isn’t moving cases along. By introducing a program that can respond to different queries and hold intelligent conversations, the department can appear more responsive while it grapples with an increasing number of cases.

Paying landlords on time

Another common complaint from landlords of Section 8 housing is that payments can arrive late. This puts unnecessary stress on both the tenant and landlord. Currently, a late payment has to be chased with a phone call to the department, which then comes with the usual hold music and being passed around from person to person. Establishing a digital service where landlords are notified automatically if payments will be late so that they can prepare for it and be told what will happen next will remove any chance of going through this frustrating process.

Conclusion

Housing is a divisive issue so, undoubtedly, the federal department responsible for it is under more scrutiny than most. This also presents HUD with a unique opportunity to lead the way on customer service and step up to create better journeys for citizens that use it. By establishing clear communication using the advanced digital tools that are available, HUD could revolutionize the way it helps US citizens through their housing needs.

 

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[1] https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2499

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/798766/foreclosure-rate-usa/

[3] https://www.prb.org/us-working-poor-families/

[4] https://affordablehousingonline.com/housing-help/waiting-lists

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