Minnesota Housing Finance Agency is a Trailblazer

Minnesota Housing is a Trailblazer, unlocking detailed visibility across the organization.

 

Affordable housing is not a one-size-fits-all conversation.

“People forget that affordable housing is a spectrum. When we talk about affordable housing, we’re not only talking about people who are homeless; we’re talking about senior citizens living on a fixed income and families that are trying to buy their first home. The type of housing a person needs may look different based on their circumstances, but ultimately all people need access to a safe place to call home that is affordable to them.” said Karin Wilbricht, Business Lead, Salesforce Implementation for Minnesota Housing.

Minnesota Housing provides access to safe, decent and affordable housing and builds stronger communities across the state. As the state’s housing finance agency, (Think: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at the state level) it offers funding solutions and services to help Minnesotans buy and fix up their homes and to stabilize neighborhoods, communities and families. It also supports the development and preservation of affordable rental housing through both an annual competitive financing process and long term asset manage­ment. It has pioneered a successful model for supportive housing that helps stabilize the lives of some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. In 2018, Minnesota Housing invested over $1 billion in programs that helped 66,000+ households maintain a stable living environment.[1]

“Housing is a basic human need. If you don’t have a stable place to live, it’s hard to think about your job, your health, your education,” added Chris Larson, IT Product Manager for Minnesota Housing. “While our mission focuses heavily on serving Minnesota’s most vulnerable, it also looks at how we make sure that there is affordable housing for everyone.”

 

Five best practices from Minnesota Housing

Minnesota Housing serves as a prime example of how departments and agencies can build a more automated and transparent case management process. Turn its best practices into your to-do list.
 

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.”

The results highlight quantitative and qualitative benefits.

This newfound subject matter expertise came through in Minnesota Housing’s numbers. Since going live on the cloud, Minnesota Housing reduced its annual funding round set-up time by 98.5% ( from 200+ hours to 3 hours).

It also opened up mobility, allowing staff to work remotely, log status updates while out on a site inspection, take advantage of more flexible scheduling, and more – achievements that were recognized not only by Minnesota Housing’s stakeholders, but also the industry. In 2017, the Agency received the National Council for State Housing Agencies’ award for program excellence in the Management Innovation for Technology.  

Lastly, the system has improved the experience for Minnesota Housing’s lending partners. John Rocker, Senior Underwriter and Loan Officer at Greater Minnesota Housing Fund noted, “this strategy has dramatically improved the efficiency of reviewing applications. Standard naming conventions, the ability to filter documents, read communication, easily download files, and quickly jump from one application to the next have allowed Greater Minnesota Housing Fund to spend more time evaluating the applications and less time hunting for documents.”

“As someone in the IT field, we don’t always see how we’re impacting the communities with the work that were doing,” said Larson. “But with this approach, we can get to the finite detail of exactly what it takes to get an application processed, and as a result make decisions that are most efficient and most effective.”

 

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