Clarity, Technology, and the Human Dimension
PD&R has improved access to its housing and urban development-related research and data through the creation of the USHMC web portal, the HUD USER eBookstore, and several mobile apps. While you’ll be hearing a great deal about milestones in the coming months as HUD prepares to celebrate 50 years of service to the American people, another more modest milestone is fast approaching: in late autumn, www.huduser.gov will celebrate 18 years online. From its launch in Fall 1996, the HUD User website, supported and managed by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R), has played a central role in carrying out the mission to publish and promote the reports and data sets that PD&R’s stakeholders rely on when making informed decisions on the appropriate allocation of resources, and when seeking to improve housing conditions and opportunities for the American public.
Mere longevity does not a worthwhile online resource make, however; innovation and responsiveness to constituent needs are the keys to long-term relevance. For HUD USER, clients’ interests primarily center on knowledge transfer and professional development through housing research and data. The HUD USER website audience has grown steadily — about 10 to 12 percent each year for the past decade. Today, visitors to the website download over 14 million publications and data sets annually.
Research shows that more than 93 percent of all public interaction with the federal government now takes place online. It stands to reason, then, that building and developing a responsive, interactive, well-organized, and ultimately useful website continues to be among PD&R’s top priorities. Part of this effort is The Edge, an online magazine that keeps visitors informed of latest housing research, best practices, policy updates, and current thinking in the housing and community development world.
For the past 18 years, HUD USER staff has been identifying and adopting technological enhancements that optimize return on the taxpayers’ investment. Recognizing the need to provide timely data to constituents, HUD USER transitioned the U.S. Housing Market Conditions (USHMC) reports from a print-based version to a web portal. Updated each month, the USHMC website contains all the national, regional, state, metropolitan, and local data and analysis in one location. Visitors can search by geography to obtain reports available for a particular area or can search by the type of report. Each report contains different levels of data and/or analysis.
New interactive mapping applications such as the Qualified Census Tract application that lend an engaging and educational visual dimension to the depiction of data were added to the website. In 2012, the eBookstore was launched where visitors can download over 100 most in-demand research reports and periodicals — for free —suitable for virtually every e-reader and tablet on the market today. These devices have been steadily gaining in popularity across all demographic segments, and have become the preferred means of accessing content on the go for many readers.
Not long after launching the eBookstore, PD&R further embraced the mobile revolution by releasing a series of mobile apps under the heading PD&R Mobile. Beginning with The Edge, mobile offerings have been expanded to include USHMC and Fair Market Rents/Income Limits (FMR/IL) Look-Up — the latter two devoted to providing the most requested housing data on the go.
To keep stakeholders engaged and informed, PD&R created Facebook and Twitter accounts that continue to garner a solid base of fans and followers. To enable a dialogue with website visitors, an online Forum was added.
And finally, recognizing the growing trend toward mobile computing in general (current predictions hold that, by 2015, more than half of the American public will access the Internet primarily via mobile devices), as of June of this year, huduser.gov now offers almost all content in Responsive Web Design (RWD) format. Whichever device is used, huduser.gov will scale and reconfigure the content and draw the pages to suit the size of the screen.
All of these efforts have been accomplished with a single goal in mind: to make it easier, faster, and more convenient for PD&R stakeholders to keep pace with the latest research, data, and information on housing in America.
The Human Dimension
Even as HUD User embraces the many benefits afforded by new and emerging technology, PD&R hasn’t lost sight of the fact that no device will ever take the place of one-on-one human interaction. That’s why knowledgeable Help Desk staff is available to answer questions about housing research and data available on HUD USER. Website visitors can call the Help Desk toll-free at 1-800-245-2691 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This coming fall, HUD User will be conducting a brief customer satisfaction survey that will give you the chance to provide feedback and give recommendations as to how the website can be made even better. When the time comes, please invest a few minutes to share your impressions and experiences.