Last Thursday and Friday I had the opportunity to attend the Housing Matters conference hosted by Housing Action Illinois, a statewide coalition formed to protect and expand the availability of quality, affordable housing throughout the state. Their annual conference is designed to bring together housing counseling agencies, homeless service providers, developers of affordable housing and policymakers. The conference was filled with valuable information and was a great opportunity for RSI to connect with the housing counselors, legal aid providers and research experts that help make our foreclosure mediation programs successful.
A few of the workshops that I attended really stood out as applicable to the foreclosure mediation work that RSI is doing. First, Woodstock Institute and the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University presented a workshop called Using Data for Planning and Impact Analysis. Program monitoring and evaluation is a huge part of RSI’s responsibility under the Attorney General grant to incubate foreclosure mediation programs throughout the state, so this was an interesting topic to explore. The panel discussed how programs can best use data to help them understand what is happening in their communities and to demonstrate the impact their work is having. I was especially excited to hear from Woodstock Institute because of the partnership we already have with the organization. Woodstock has been providing us with data on foreclosure filings in the counties we serve, as well as census tract heat maps that track foreclosure activity and mediation program impact. These maps are important tools for sharing our successes and better focusing our future efforts. During the workshop, we also had a dialogue about how to make data relevant. Woodstock shared that hits on their website increased 285% when they switched from presenting information as an online fact book to a more interactive data portal. This figure was really striking and made me think more about how to present data in a way that best informs and engages our audience.
Another interesting presentation was about effective coordination between housing counseling and legal aid services. As we run our foreclosure mediation programs, we work closely with both housing counselors and legal aid and often refer homeowners to them. We find that homeowners are often overwhelmed trying to navigate the foreclosure process and are not sure who to reach out to for help or who to trust. The foreclosure mediation programs monitor cases from intake to conclusion and are, therefore, in a unique position to connect homeowners with the services that best meet their needs. It was exciting to exchange ideas about how we can use the framework of the mediation programs to help coordinate services and ensure that homeowners are getting the help they need.
The conference provided the opportunity to form new relationships while connecting with existing friends and program partners. As new foreclosure mediation programs form and expand throughout the state, it’s great to share our mission with others who work for stable neighborhoods and fair and affordable housing.