Public Housing and Process Improvement: Can Lean Help You Create Capacity and Weather The Looming National Budget Crisis?

By Josh Crites and Job Pangilinan

Since the last time we wrote an article, a lot of information regarding the HUD budget has come out.  The President’s budget is calling for a six billion dollar cut.   We knew tough times were coming but this sheds a little more light on what the deal is.  Although this looks bad, everyone should not overreact as there is a lot of time for negotiation and deal making to take place.  It is probably safe to assume a reduced budget but we should leave open hope that advocacy might mitigate the impact.
We (Job and Josh tandem) write here on LinkedIn and other platforms advocating for lean process improvement methodologies to be used in the public housing industry.  It is our firm belief that dedicated process improvement work with lean management systems can help identify waste in day to day work and reduce it.  We have both seen process improvement work in the affordable housing world, non-profit, business and medical.  There is absolutely no reason why we cannot improve the work we are doing and cut back on inefficiencies.  In our combined efforts working for public housing authorities, We have seen lean applied to:
•    Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher admissions
•    Inspections (both Housing Choice Voucher and Public Housing)
•    Annual Reviews
•    Interims
•    Movers and ports
•    Capital Construction and weatherization
•    Electronic File Management
•    HR hiring processes
•    Lobby traffic
•    Placement of equipment in office spaces


Create Capacity:
We realize the government/non-profit sector is a different beast.  However; with cuts coming our way we need to think about methods to help us cope with a loss of funds and the inability to staff the way we need to.  In order to simplify this lets think about lean in regards to creating capacity.  A well functioning team should be able to run multiple lean projects at one time.  They can be of varying levels of complexity and size.  Here is an example of how lean might create capacity.

  • One projects saves 15 hours by not asking for duplicate paperwork for households already living with the housing authority but transferring properties or coming through the waiting list.
  • Another project saves 5 hours a month by reducing the time it takes to index documents in the document imaging system.
  • A separate project figures out how to save 12 hours a month by not letting over-income households come to a voucher briefing thus saving packet preparation and staff time spent with applicants who will not qualify anyways.
  • One staff member figures out that 10 staff are walking to a printer 10-15 times a day and wasting up to 10 minutes each in movement.  They move the printer closer saving about 5 more hours a week.
  • Forms being returned by voucher participants are coming back 70% incomplete and goes on a rework loop. Improving the form to simplify and bring clarity saves the staff the time correcting them, sending them back and prevent a barrage of email and phone calls between the participant and staff.

These are just examples of simple process improvement projects made possible by staff engagement. These brought hours of work capacity that allow them to manage their need to help their growing clients. Leadership realizes that the more we promote activities like these, the more we see customer service satisfaction and staff morale go up.

As you think about strategies for saving money in 2017 and 2018, lean can help.  However; we implore you to think about ways that you can better cope with losses that will come your way.  Where there are processes there is waste and uncaptured capacity waiting to be taken back!

3 thoughts on “Public Housing and Process Improvement: Can Lean Help You Create Capacity and Weather The Looming National Budget Crisis?

Add yours

  1. Josh,

    Lean is ultimately focused on value, and flow towards that value. At Seattle, what do you consider value? Do you focus purely on HUD indicators and streamline your processes towards those indicators? Or do you focus on something on more natural value such as length of time to graduating public housing? Almost a FSS focus on your programs?

    Really Curious,


    1. Thanks for the comment Ryan. We realize we have multiple customers and need to decide which one or ones are driving a value stream. One example is our admissions department. They found that 25% of all the people coming to admissions briefings were over-income. The applicants would show up only to find out they were over-income and be placed back on the waitlist. In this event, the team decided to focus on the applicant as the customer and drive the percentage down to save the applicant time/money in coming in. At a high level, identifying the value stream helps a PHA understand VOC. At the micro level, being flexible allows a PHA to dive into the details.


  2. It’s interesting you say that Josh. We recently refactored our online application program to pre-qualify residents for waiting lists (as much as possible). For instance we perform bedroom calculations on the fly to ensure households would qualify for available bedroom sizes in a particular property, prior to allowing them on the list. Other times the restrictions are limited to age or disability. Interesting thoughts….


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