By Mary Beth Parker
Recently, Equifax Government Solutions and the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) co-presented a panel discussion on the impact and ongoing effects of the pandemic on public housing authorities (PHAs). The resulting need for housing assistance has greatly increased the burden on PHAs, already facing shortages in affordable housing. The pandemic and its economic effects magnified the crisis and will continue to have far-reaching effects on PHAs, landlords and tenants. The focus of the discussion quickly turned to streamlining assistance determinations with automated data, especially for income verifications.
The panelists discussed data as one of the levers being used to most effectively help PHAs create better and more efficient processes to quickly address the rapidly expanding need to validate qualified applicants. While the use of data for this purpose isn’t new, the availability of data insights and real-time, automated data are helping give the public housing industry much needed context and tools.
Using Data to Create More Efficient PHA processes
Panelist Georgi Banna, NAHRO Director of Policy & Program Development, was asked about his whitepaper, What Happens Next? Housing Beyond the Pandemic. It references a 2020 Urban Institute report stating that, for households that qualify for federal housing assistance, only one out of five of those households received assistance. So it’s clear that there was an affordable housing supply crunch prior to the pandemic, with PHAs already stretched to meet the need.
Panelists discussed how data was becoming one of the most effective ways that PHAs could create more efficient processes. Using automated verifications in order to validate qualified applicants helped speed up the qualification process for tenant applicants. At the same time, those automated income verifications also helped reduce the burden on tenant applicants to supply paystubs.
How The Work Number Helps Verify Income for Public Housing Applicants
“The Work Number®, we have found, is the best solution for us to get real-time information, especially during the time of COVID,” said Danicka Ransom, Osceola County (FL) Human Services Assistant Director. Ransom continued, “[h]aving a solution like The Work Number has really allowed us to continue to move forward with ensuring that we are income qualifying clients the right way with the most recent information.”
The Work Number database offers credentialed customers with permissible purpose access under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to verify income and employment information. The data compiled in the The Work Number includes income and employment information for more than half of the U.S. non-farm payroll. This allows PHAs to check for up-to-date employment and income records as The Work Number is updated every pay period as provided by the employer. This kind of access helps increase efficiency and reduce burden for both the agencies and tenant applicants with automated income and employment verifications. It also means PHAs can sometimes secure a verification of earned income faster than the household can provide it. This can help keep tenant applications moving forward quickly for those who income-qualify.
Panelist Chrystal Dawson, Kinston (NC) Housing Authority Property Manager added, “In the case of a tenant reporting a change in wages that affects their rental amount, I primarily use The Work Number. It’s easy, quick. I can capture more income to get a more accurate picture of hours worked.”
Pandemic Impact on Federal Assistance for Public Housing
The panel also discussed how federal assistance has brought relief to PHAs through temporary program requirement waivers and emergency vouchers. However, Housing Authorities must sort through these new rules while still processing the growing number of assistance applications. Ransom described additional efforts to keep public housing landlords engaged, including finding and explaining additional available incentives including at the state and federal levels for affordable housing programs. The ability to automate employment and income verifications can help free up PHA staff time to respond to new guidelines and work to expand housing options in their communities. This applies to both the tenant application phase as well as re-verifications.
To listen to the webinar, click here. For more information on how Equifax helps government agencies and Public Housing Authorities verify applicant-reported information, click here.