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Affordable housing is not a one-size-fits-all conversation.
Five best practices from Minnesota Housing
Lately, this conversation has attracted political attention.
“The need for affordable housing is becoming part of the main stream conversation. We are hearing politicians talk about the incredible need regularly in the news, recognizing that housing is key to thriving communities,” said Wilbricht – an observation that reflects trends surfacing across the national level as well as the state and local level.
In a 2018 report, Pew Research found that “the relatively large number of housing measures on the ballot this year reflects a national sense of urgency amid rising housing costs, housing analysts say. A lack of federal action and cash-strapped state and local budgets have contributed to the crisis. Citizens are showing up at town halls and city council meetings demanding action, they say.”
As this phenomenon intensifies, it brings more attention and scrutiny to how organizations like Minnesota Housing allocate resources and support community development. Wilbricht, Larson, and the team had to be ready to answer hard-hitting questions about various housing development projects – a two-year+ real estate development timeline – and support those answers with data in order to ensure funding in today’s environment. “If we can’t show outcomes from our value chain, and the flow of money stops as a result, it’s not us who pay. It’s the families who need our services,” said Larson.
Minnesota Housing brings its value chain to life on the cloud.
The team began looking for a tool that would allow employees to work in real-time with their customers and partners – in this case, primarily real estate developers, cities, counties, nonprofit organizations, and other government entities on the development side of the mission – so that Minnesota Housing could demonstrate its ability to serve as good stewards of taxpayer money.
In other words, the team began looking for a tool that would focus on the people and the experience behind each step in the loan process.
“We ended up building a loan origination and servicing system on Salesforce,” said Wilbricht. Built on Sales Cloud and Community Cloud, this case management-style system gives Minnesota Housing a platform for processing funding requests, answering questions, closing on a loan, and distributing the financing to support the development of new affordable housing units or rehabilitation of existing units.
- Outreach and intake: “We went from a paper-based application process to a completely digital process,” said Wilbricht.
- Execution: New features are piloted in a test environment and promoted to their production environment after business sign-off. The cloud based application allows for system-level updates to be pushed automatically, as opposed to their on-premise systems that require staff to spend a lot of time and energy applying patches, testing, and troubleshooting. “Licenses can also be added as needed, allowing us to scale up as we build out new features and functionality or expand to other parts of our business,” said Larson.
- Relationship management: Data about a given Minnesota Housing customer, including their loan history, status updates, and more, is stored in a profile-like setting, giving Minnesota Housing employees a 360-degree view of each individual. “Our customers can use Community Cloud to check on the status of their application and know exactly what they need to do in order for us to be able to close on a loan,” said Wilbricht.
- Analytics: Integrated reports and dashboards provide real-time count of mission-critical details, such as the number of applications submitted, where each of those applications are in the approval process, which region they represent, new construction vs. rehab, and more. Chatter allows Minnesota Housing staff to collaborate with their customers and partners, track decisions, and manage relationships more efficiently
The system turned Minnesota Housing employees into a knowledgeable source of answers; “In the past, there wasn’t a quick way to see how many applications were in process and their respective status,” said Larson. “Today, we use dashboards to communicate the statuses of all our applications.”