Engagement Initiatives

The Open Government Directive describes engagement as allowing “members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed in society." In order to achieve this goal, HUD must create new ways for the public to share ideas with the Department. Additionally, HUD must create incentive structures that allow citizens to see the practical and positive results of their engagement and participation.

HUD's governance structure will play a vital role in prioritizing feedback from the public and determining what value-added comments or ideas are actionable. The Department must improve its customer-centric focus, and identify ways to be more responsive to their needs. The following sub-sections introduce several engagement related projects HUD is currently or will be undertaking. The Department currently conducts many of these activities, but there is room for improvement in making the relevant processes and data more open to public engagement.

Provide Improved Online Feedback Capabilities for Customers

HUD will create new online capabilities that will allow its customers to quickly and easily provide valuable insight into the Department's processes, activities, and technologies. Suggestions and insight provided to HUD via this tool will not be locked in bureaucratic channels, but swiftly and proactively distributed to the relevant program and support area personnel. These new online capabilities will act as a catalyst for the Department's ongoing efforts of information gathering and citizen engagement, and will make HUD even more welcoming to public feedback

Additionally, this tool will be utilized to improve HUD's online Fair Housing Complaint submission process to make it more user-friendly and less bureaucratic. Numerous public comments on IdeaScale requested that the process be simplified and/or more discoverable.

As part of its efforts to create improved online capabilities, HUD may utilize YouTube videos or other delivery mediums to explain to the general public how to submit complaints online, and it will create a new tracking system that will assign each citizen an anonymous tracking number so that they can easily trace the progress of their complaint. No personally identifiable information (PII) will be collected in the submission of this tracking process, and the identities of petitioners will be protected.

Provide Online Capabilities for Public Review of HUD Regulations Prior to Implementation

HUD already publishes its rules, regulations, and covenants for public review before they are implemented. However, citizens have expressed, via HUD's Ideas in Action portal, that it is unclear how to direct feedback to the Department. HUD will create a centralized and much more easily navigable website that utilizes an IdeaScale-like interface to allow the public to better engage with proposed rule changes. On this website, citizens will be able to make concrete suggestions that can subsequently be voted either up or down by other users to effectively highlight well-articulated and popular ideas.

This project will enable HUD and other relevant federal, state, and local Agencies to more effectively engage with citizens, and properly review and vet comments that raise significant issues. Additionally, this website will enable the Department to assess how responsive state and local governments are in responding to concerns raised by the public.

HUD Ideas in Action: A Strategic Planning and Open Government Tool

During the development of its current strategic plan, the Department launched a web portal called HUD Ideas in Action. This website, and the active engagement with citizens that resulted from its use, allowed HUD to better inform its strategic plan and the processes utilized to develop it by providing direct and substantive input into the strategic focus that the Department should take.

This tool, which also satisfies elements of the Open Government Directive's definition of collaborative tools and processes, allows users to submit ideas and have these ideas voted on by other users. HUD personnel can tailor submissions to address specific Department initiatives or to broader questions about its strategic priorities. Ideas that will improve HUD's mission performance are sent to the appropriate decision making authority, where they are evaluated against specific criteria such as their alignment with HUD's strategic plan, their cost, and their ease of implementation. If an idea is approved, the relevant program or support area become the ‘owner' and will be tasked with realization.

After being updated and revitalized, and possibly even merged with HUD's Ideascale site, this site will remain a vital aspect of HUD's engagement efforts, as it provides valuable insight into the needs of its customers, its employees, external stakeholders, and the general public. Continued development of HUD Ideas in Action demonstrates how open government has been and will continue to be a major influence on the Department's strategic planning, and vice versa.

More specific information about the tool can be accessed online.

Transforming Rental Assistance

Rental assistance is provided by many public housing agencies, thousands of private owners with Federal contracts, and hundreds of non-profits. HUD does not have a unified approach to interacting with these disparate rental assistance programs. This creates inefficiencies for these organizations, and eligible families must interact with these programs separately, such as adding their names to many different waiting lists. Currently being developed within the Department, the Transforming Rental Assistance (TRA) program intends to provide a uniform way of working with the disparate rental assistance programs by moving their properties toward a uniform funding stream, governed by a single set of rules and regulations, while retaining deep affordability.

Equally important, TRA will help to preserve the millions of units receiving HUD rental assistance by opening them up to other public and private sources of financing to meet their capital needs and ensure their long-term quality through the market discipline brought to bear in mixed finance projects. Additionally, TRA reflects the Department's commitment to enhancing tenant mobility, providing more tenants in HUD-assisted housing the option to 'vote with their feet' if their current housing is poorly operated or if they have the chance to move to a neighborhood of greater opportunity.

HUD is committed to developing this initiative in an open and collaborative manner including public meetings and leveraging webcast technologies. As recently as March 29, 2010, HUD conducted a webcast entitled "Transforming Rental Assistance: An Informational Webcast for Residents of HUD's Rental Assistance Programs". This webcast was a live presentation by senior HUD leaders in which information on potential policies and program specifics were presented and the senior leadership received questions from the public via email and phone.

One question that was addressed during the webcast was whether HUD is committed to ensuring robust opportunities for residents to participate. HUD was able to immediately address the question by responding that residents would: have a right to organize, be consulted before and during conversion, have access to funding for organizing throughout competitive process, serve on public housing authority (PHA) boards, and participate in the PHA planning process.

As the TRA program evolves, HUD will continue to offer public meetings, webcasts, and other mechanisms to actively engage the public. The Department will also ensure that residents have direct mechanisms to engage with HUD in this important transformation program.