Design Your HAF Program
Homeowner Assistance Fund
The purpose of the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) is to prevent mortgage delinquencies and defaults, foreclosures, loss of utilities or home energy services, and displacement of homeowners experiencing financial hardship after January 21, 2020. Funds from the HAF may be used for assistance with mortgage payments, homeowner’s insurance, utility payments, and other specified purposes. The law prioritizes funds for homeowners who have experienced hardships, leveraging local and national income indicators to maximize the impact.
TAKING A HUMAN-CENTERED APPROACH
HAF participants (states, U.S. territories and Tribal governments) are expected to implement programs that efficiently help homeowners, while meeting the needs of both communities and mortgage servicers. Good program design requires collaboration among HAF participants, homeowners, mortgage servicers and other stakeholders and thinking through the process from end-to-end.
Human-centered design is an approach that can help HAF participants better understand the needs of homeowners and mortgage servicers, thus creating a more impactful HAF program. This approach provides methods that put the homeowner at the center of decision-making, design, and implementation of services. It is a creative problem-solving process that includes community members and emphasizes a much deeper understanding of their needs and barriers in order to arrive at solutions that truly reflect the community’s needs and solves for root problems.
Human-centered design approaches programs, policies, and processes by asking how an ordinary person would experience every element, such as application design and communication strategies. By placing the individual at the core of a program, HAF participants can ensure homeowners receive timely support and community needs are met.
These human-centered design values should drive and shape a participant’s HAF program:
- Homeowner Empowerment
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that federal agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use of information and data available to employees and members of the public who are not disabled. HAF participants are expected to do the same for their program materials and services, including the HAF applications, which should be accessible to all.
Strategies to Increase HAF Accessibility:
- Create applications and services on platforms that are accessible to all people, regardless of disability or other factors.
- Design applications for the spectrum of disabilities because disabilities can be permanent (e.g., chronic health condition), temporary (e.g., broken arm), or situational (e.g., being in a noisy environment).
- Review the application’s visual design/layout, language used, applicant/product interaction, and other ways an applicant would experience the application process.
- Conduct targeted and data-driven outreach to ensure HAF applications are accessible to all households.
HAF applications and programs should be designed with an understanding of the realities and histories of communities intended to be served. HAF programs can apply lessons learned from pilot programs about application design, outreach, and communication for their broader program implementation phase. By especially considering the needs of socially disadvantaged individuals (SDI), HAF programs can improve their engagement with broader communities to:
- Understand immediate and on-going homeownership needs;
- Establish trust with socially disadvantaged populations of homeowners; and
- Increase awareness among potential program applicants.
These essential elements can contribute to the success of any HAF program resulting in better outcomes such as reduced foreclosure rates and higher financial stability among historically socially disadvantaged populations.
Strategies for Creating an Equitable HAF Programs:
- Create an ongoing, inclusive engagement process with socially disadvantaged communities and stakeholders through consistently scheduled two-way conversations.
- Protect Title VI of the Civil Rights act and improve access for those with limited English proficiency (LEP) with this guide: www.LEP.gov 1
- Convene with trusted intermediaries to socially disadvantaged groups to:
- Understand each community’s needs and potential barriers to application; and
- Request support for outreach.
- Create a feedback loop with applicants to help identify and address barriers to applying to HAF.
- Request iterative feedback, input on application design, processes, and measures of success directly with applicants representing homeowners within the HAF participant’s jurisdiction.
- Respond to applicant, community and advocate input with tangible actions that reflect feedback.
- When a barrier to application is identified, quickly create a usable alternative for community members, such as accepting alternative eligibility documentation through a self-attestation paired with a data proxy. A HAF program can avoid applicant barriers issues with documentation by having the self-attestation and data proxy serve as the default eligibility verification method rather than other documents.
- Avoid the collecting or storing information about the applicant beyond the data required by Treasury for HAF reporting purposes. For example, requiring that applicants provide their social security numbers in order to be eligible for HAF assistance is not consistent with the Privacy Act. It is a best practice to establish data privacy and security requirements for the information collected from all households, including minimizing collection of unnecessary personally identifiable information (PII) and providing confidentiality protections, as necessary.
- Develop process to identify and accommodate SDI groups’ application barriers.
- Develop culturally relevant solutions and service support for the application process, including end-to-end qualified translation of digital content, instructions, and qualified human support.
- Use data to determine which communities are underserved and adjust communication strategies to increase applications and supports of eligible populations.
- Increase awareness of HAF programs through plain-language multi-media outreach strategies. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offers a shareable toolkit to assist HAF participants with outreach as well as flyers.
HAF websites and applications should be easy to find and access. If an application is difficult to use, people will get discouraged and are significantly less likely to use it to apply for assistance.
Strategies for Usability:
- Ensure that applicants can easily pick up the application (digital or physical copy), self-navigate through the questions, and quickly perform tasks.
- Allow applicants to save their progress in an application and re-enter later to complete a task.
- Request and review feedback from applicants and analyze how many and what kinds of errors users make due to the design of the application and/or website.
- Use plain language to help applicants better understand their options and the application process itself. The CFPB offers a wide variety of plain language education materials to help educate homeowners.
HAF programs can help homeowners determine their best options to address housing-related financial hardships as a result of the pandemic. Housing counseling and plain language education materials can help homeowners determine the best option for themselves—temporary financial assistance through the HAF program is just one option available. For example, if a homeowner would be unable to keep up with regular mortgage payments once HAF assistance ends, that homeowner might be better served by first exploring loss-mitigation options such as a loan modification to lower the interest rate or lengthen the payment term.
All HAF programs are encouraged to integrate housing counseling services into their HAF program plans to help find the best solution for homeowners. Housing counselors are fluent in the various options available to homeowners and can also help homeowners assess their financial situation holistically, often providing budgeting support and referrals to other available resources.
- Integrate housing counseling services for homeowners to provide the education, confidence, and ability to identify and evaluate potential solutions to their housing-related financial hardship.
- Enable households to select the financial solution that best fits their needs based on education and options through their servicer.
- Add a question to the HAF application to quickly identify households in crisis and potential pathways right away. For example:
- “Can you afford your regular mortgage payment or not?”
- “Have you received a foreclosure notice?”
- “Have you talked with your servicer about options to avoid foreclosure?”
- Expedite communication with servicers and homeowners when households are at risk of foreclosure.
- Enable homeowners to remain informed of their HAF application status through weekly status updates via texts or emails, or even on-demand status update through a web portal, until the household receives funding. These simple communications can help assure households that their applications are not lost in the system and ultimately reduce call-in volume from applicants checking on the status of their applications.