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Creating Accountability

Section Overview

This section discusses key considerations and concepts required to sustain implementation of a housing equity initiative. These include issues related to measuring performance and models for creating internal and external accountability for maintaining and increasing impact.

Organizations should create accountability mechanisms to reinforce the focus and sustain the organizational initiatives in this area and incorporate it in housing equity planning, rather than waiting until implementation. This section outlines some key considerations for measuring performance and creating accountability at both the organization and individual level.

Measuring Performance

Measuring an organization’s performance in addressing housing equity is important from both a learning and an accountability perspective. An organization cannot effectively modify its approach to create better outcomes if it does not understand what contributed to its success or shortcomings in reaching its goals. It is also difficult to create individual or organizational accountability. Measuring key outputs, and especially outcomes, in a transparent way is extremely important in ESG reporting and obtaining ESG- or impact-oriented capital.

The frameworks presented in this Guide provide a good basis for undertaking this performance measurement effort. There are three key components of performance measurement to consider – Outputs, Outcomes and Contributing Factors. Explore the expandable sections below to learn more about each component.

Output metrics will help measure whether effective planning and implementation steps have been taken. The tools in the Decision-making for Housing Equity section of this Guide to define the desired changes in an organization’s practice is a good starting point for what outputs to measure:

  • How much did we invest in the neighborhoods we targeted to improve equity in capital distribution?

  • Did we have good adoption of our platform to build resident credit history?

  • Outputs could also include an internal policy or practice the organization implemented, such as completing workforce training or assessment processes that demonstrate progress.

In most cases, outputs should be readily measurable using basic organizational data, though this may require some forethought.

Outcome metrics (often referred to as impacts) are the desired changes the work should achieve. The working definition of resident outcomes such as those discussed in the What Is Housing Equity section provide a good sense of what outcomes to measure:

  • Did the changes in our marketing practices increase the diversity of our resident base?

  • Did the adoption of a rent reporting platform substantively improve resident credit scores?

Outcomes should focus on the changes in residents and communities and generally will not include internal organizational milestones. Outcomes are typically more difficult than outputs to measure and may need a more creative approach to measurement. Some outcomes may be measured through existing organizational data. For example, owner/operators can measure resident base diversity (by race, income, age, and other characteristics), the stability of residents over time, or instances of problem solving with residents to avoid evictions. Apartment owners and operators can measure utilization of community amenities or find other ways to capture the value created through design and development decisions. Economic impact evaluation can also be utilized if the goals include local job creation or increased economic activity. Other outcomes may require collecting additional data from residents through surveys, interviews or other mechanisms.

It is important to be realistic about what can be reasonably measured and accomplished. Outcomes are often the result of many factors in a person’s life, so it can be difficult to tie changes in outcomes directly back to an organization’s activities. Providing the opportunity to capture rent payments such as credit history, for example, could certainly help to build a person’s credit history for a household seeking to build credit. But if that person also suffered an income or job loss during the same time period and fell behind on their credit card payments, this could result in no change or even a negative change in their credit score. This doesn’t mean the effort wasn’t helpful, but it does mean that real-world impacts are difficult to demonstrate. In this case, it would be worth exploring whether there is a way to capture the positive contribution of their on-time rent payments to their credit history to evaluate that as an outcome.

Contributing factors are individual, organizational, or environmental conditions or events that contributed to the results that may be relevant to consider as it interprets the results. These factors are not about what results occurred, but rather how and why they occurred. If the outputs were delivered, but failed to achieve the desired outcome, what might have gone wrong that could be adjusted in the approach? If outcomes were achieved, what else contributed to that success that was not expected? Contributing factors to outcomes are typically difficult to capture in quantitative data analysis but can be captured through stakeholder engagement and qualitative data collection efforts such as those described in the Decision-making for Housing Equity section.

How to Apply Performance Measures

Once performance measures have been determined, an organization can focus on how to use those performance measures to create accountability toward improving housing outcomes and equity. As described in the Introduction to this Guide, to be effective, accountability should be established at both the organization level and the individual level .

At the organization level, there are a few different forms of accountability to consider:

  • Setting organizational performance targets. The same types of benchmarking and target-setting processes already used in other business processes can be used to advance housing equity. Estimating the desired outputs and outcomes within a given time frame and then measuring performance against them is a key motivator and helps individuals in the organization to manage their priorities. Targets can be incorporated into the organization’s overall definitions of success alongside other common operational and performance metrics. Such targets can be for internal-only use or shared externally as part of public commitments to advancing housing equity.

  • Accountability to residents and communities. This is the most important form of accountability since it directly relates to the goal of advancing housing equity and is a key contributor to successful community and resident engagement. Creating transparency for stakeholders is an important component of operating equitably. Following up, as needed, with a community will help to build trust and a good long-term relationship with them.

  • Internal Accountability. Transparency about the organization’s housing equity-related results (e.g., relative to targets) also creates a source of internal accountability, both for leaders and for employees across the organization. Understanding the results achieved (and places where the organization fell short of targets) is also an important component of organizational and team learning.

  • Public Accountability. Reporting outputs and outcomes to investors, partners, the general public, and other actors can be a helpful accountability mechanism. If employees and leaders know that the results will be reported outside the organization, this will increase the focus on achieving the results and sustaining the change. This can also carry direct organizational benefits in terms of reputation, public relations and demonstration of ESG commitments.

Depending on the nature of the efforts being undertaken and the organization’s size and culture, individual accountability could take the form of:

  • Financial or other incentives for contributing to housing equity-related results.

  • Eliminating incentives that work against these results.

  • Factoring this lens into employee performance evaluations.

  • Providing direct support for personal and professional development related to housing equity.

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