Implementing a Rent Control Database to Advance Equitable Housing

January 17, 2021

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FUSE Corps

Washington D.C. is working to increase the availability of affordable housing by developing a new digital form submission and database, and then collecting data on all rental properties in the district. To support this work, the Department of Housing Community Development will partner with a FUSE Executive Fellow for one year to help inform the design of the database by helping the district think through how its customers can use the system for their respective purposes, allowing the district to better address inequities in controlling rent costs and protecting socio-economically vulnerable residents.

This fellowship project begins on April 26, 2021, and ends on April 25, 2022. The fellowship begins with a multi-day virtual orientation the week of April 26, 2021. The selected Executive Fellow will begin their first day of providing services to the host agency on May 3, 2021.

PROJECT CONTEXT

The District of Columbia, like many cities across the country, is working to increase the availability of affordable housing. In D.C., more than one-third of all households citywide spend more than 30 percent of their income on monthly housing payments and utilities. For the lowest income District residents (those earning approximately $30,000 a year or less), the difficulties are most prevalent. As part of a key legislative priority to ensure equitable housing options for its residents, D.C.’s administration has prioritized affordable housing and mandated departments to work across agencies on a comprehensive plan to address affordable housing for Residents (See FUSE Project “Advancing Equity Through Inclusive and Affordable Housing”).

In conjunction with other affordable housing initiatives, the District has prioritized reviewing its rent control policies. D.C.’s rent control law, passed in 1985, applies to owners of most large buildings that were built before 1976. In those buildings, annual rent increases are limited to 2% plus the prevailing rate of inflation. Though the rent control law is in place to preserve affordable housing in D.C., currently, historical rental records are on paper or digitized via PDF limiting the agency’s ability to identify how well or poorly rental control policies help provide affordable housing for D.C. residents who need it the most.

The lack of data in an easily accessible and centralized place for the public has created challenges to address inequities in controlling rent costs and protecting D.C.’s most socioeconomically vulnerable residents. Without an easy way to check, anecdotally, landlords may have managed to increase rents faster than the law allows — essentially turning rent-controlled units into market-rate ones. The pandemic and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has exasperated the critical need to monitor rental costs for Residents hit hard by the economic downturn.

Through legislative mandate, the Office of the Tenant Advocate is tasked with developing a form submission and database system to replace the current process to collect data on all rental properties in the District and with delivering the system to Department of Housing Community Development to kick-off the landlord re-registration process by December 31, 2021. By statute, once the online database is in place, tested and operational, tens of thousands of landlords in the District will have 90 days to re-register their properties with the city. By implementing a new system to house rental property data, the District administration will be able to better ascertain the landscape of rental costs for its Residents and make recommendations for more equitable rent control programs and policies.

The District will partner with FUSE Corps to inform the design of the database by helping the district think through how its customers—landlords, residents, rent control advocates and tenant organizers and community members at-large—can use the system for their respective purposes and to lead the development and implementation of a customer service and operations plan. The plan will focus on internal department operations to prepare the DHCD team to manage the landlord re-registration process; and external operations and communications strategies to execute the mass re-enrollment of landlords in D.C. The Executive Fellow will then implement the plan and manage the execution of the re-registration process and ongoing communications needed to ensure all key stakeholders are informed and receive timely and accurate information.

Overall, the FUSE Executive Fellow will improve the flow of transparent rental property information so that it’s known what’s happening across the city and establish customer service plan that includes multiple strategies that ensure effective and efficient use of the new system and that positions DHCD to provide optimal customer service and support for users of the system. After the facilitation of re-registration process, the FUSE Executive Fellow will conduct analysis of the rental property data identifying places where there are opportunities advance equity in affordable housing for D.C. Residents.

PROJECT SUMMARY & POTENTIAL DELIVERABLES

The following provides a general overview of the proposed fellowship project. This project summary and the potential deliverables that follow will be collaboratively revisited by the host agency, the Executive Fellow, and FUSE staff during the first few months of the fellowship, after which a revised scope of work will be developed and agreed upon by the FUSE Executive Fellow and the host agency.

Starting in April 2021, the FUSE Executive Fellow will work in collaboration with the Office of the Tenant Advocate and the Department of Housing and Community Development to provide feedback on the design of the form submission and database to ensure a positive user experience for all key stakeholders—landlords, Residents, community members and internal District agencies. The Executive Fellow will review the current system for collecting rental property data and evaluate what data is collected, how it is collected and managed, where is it stored, how is it published, and what data indicators needs to be tracked. The Executive Fellow will also research equity-centered rent control systems in other cities and counties, determine a set of best practices, and assess their applicability to the D.C. context.

To inform the rental database system’s user experience, as well as the subsequent support needed to develop an operations and customer service plan, the FUSE Executive Fellow will listen and learn from internal stakeholders facilitating conversations with staff in the Office of the Tenant Advocate and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and conduct community outreach to landlords, Residents and tenant advocates and organizers to understand functionally how they would like the system to operate and for landlords, in particular, what support they need during the re-registration process. While much of the basic functionality and design process will have occurred prior to the Executive Fellow’s start, he or she will join the DHCD team in monitoring and providing input on the design of the database and in particular we will look for them to shape the customer interface

Understanding the functionality and specifications of the new system and the needs of key stakeholders, in the next phase of the project, the FUSE Executive Fellow will devise a strategic communications and operations plan to include operations and customer service goals, strategies, metrics, timeline, communications copies and process maps required to process the data entered in the new system and to respond to customer service inquiries. The plan should also clearly define roles and responsibilities for internal and external stakeholders, training for DCHD teams and include policies to create stewardship of the system, use, and sharing of data, establish ownership of systems, and set boundaries for ethics, quality and integrity. The Executive Fellow will also provide guidelines on how the system will be shared externally. All recommendations should be provided through an equity lens. The Executive Fellow will then create a thorough and holistic implementation plan to roll out the communications and operations plan.

By December 2021, the FUSE Executive Fellow will launch the District-wide re-registration process for all landlords executing a robust communications strategy and customer-service plan using multiple communications outlets to ensure landlords are informed and supported during the 90 days they are mandated to re-register their rental properties. During the 90-day re-enrollment process, the FUSE Executive Fellow will mitigate any challenges internally or externally that arise and provide weekly status reports to respective agency leaders on the progress of the rental property re-enrollment process.

By March 2022 following the 90-day re-registration period, the Fellow will provide a final report on the outcome of the re-registration process and identify any recommendations for system and process improvements and report on metrics of landlord satisfaction with the new online registration process and the quality of support DHCD team provided during the re-enrollment period and provide any next steps to ensure the completion of landlord re-registration. In addition, the Fellow will begin preliminary analysis on the data collected in the rental property database.

By April 2022, the Executive Fellow will have launched an operations and communications plan to roll out the District-wide re-registration of tens of thousands of landlords and the implementation of a robust customer service plan providing all stakeholders a positive experience with the rollout of the new system. In addition, the FUSE Executive Fellow will have conducted initial analysis on the data collected from the re-registration of rental properties and the following:

  • Research rent control systems across the country and identify best practices– Identify equity-centered rent control systems in other cities and counties, determine a set of research-based best practices, and assess their applicability to the D.C. context.
  • Review the current configuration of the new online system and database and engage with stakeholders– Garner a deep understanding of the system design, specifications and engage with internal TOA and DCHD teams and the community: landlords, residents, tenant advocates and organizers to learn their needs and desires for the new public database.
  • Make recommendation for the system’s consumer interface aligned with the needs of key stakeholders and map system processes – Collate all relevant information, identify themes and make recommendations for system changes to better align with needs of stakeholders. Create system processes using human-centered design approach for a positive user-experience.
  • Design a robust communications/customer service and operations plan and implement the recommendations- Establish plan outlining short and long-term goals; metrics, strategies; timelines; priority areas; implementation guidelines; process maps; communications copies; training for DCHD teams; clear roles of internal and external stakeholders
  • Conduct analysis and report with findings gathered from the rental property data – Produce report on metrics of landlord satisfaction. Provide preliminary analysis on the equity of rent control correlated with the rental property data collected and rent control policy.

KEY STAKEHOLDERS

  • Sheila Miller, Deputy Director for Programs, Department of Housing and Community Development
  • Danilo Pelletiere, Senior Advisor, Department of Housing and Community Development

QUALIFICATIONS

  • At least 15 years of professional experience in communications and operations strategy with strong change management skills and experience operationalizing large-scale processes with an interest in affordable housing and multifamily units
  • Robust experience in customer service system design and delivery with a track record of taking an online product from conception to launch and implementation
  • Superior critical thinking, analytical and with customer relations abilities and experience with human-centered design
  • Ability to synthesize complex information into clear and concise recommendations
  • Exceptional written and verbal communication skills, easily able to make a business case
  • Proven ability to make and deliver powerful presentation, with ease in public speaking
  • Cross-cultural agility, relating to a wide variety of diverse audiences
  • Strong emotional intelligence and empathy
  • Strong cross-team collaborator easily able to build relationships and coalitions across teams
  • Self-motivated and goal-oriented leader who can also be an independent worker
  • Capacity to sustain progress within potentially ambiguous environments
  • Understands the need for solutions to support all people in a community regardless of race, religion, gender, immigration status, or ethnicity
FUSE Corps is an equal opportunity employer with a core value of incorporating diverse perspectives into our work at every level. We encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply for this position.