Building a Better Inspections Process
The Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) won a 2018 Award of Excellence in Administrative Innovation for streamlining and optimizing their yearly public housing inspection process. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.
SHA owns and operates over 8,000 apartments and single-family homes at nearly 400 sites throughout the city, providing low-income rental housing and rental assistance to approximately 34,000 people. Given the number of people they serve and properties they oversee, the demand for housing inspections began to increase. However, the SHA’s current staff could not handle the increase in requests, and they could not hire new staff due to budget cuts.
During 2016 and 2017, SHA launched an inspection process improvement project to streamline inspections and to help inspectors work more efficiently. First, staff analyzed the inspection process’ value stream for non-value added work that could be removed to optimize their team’s workflow.
The project improvement team worked with the Housing Operations staff to implement several countermeasures to prevent unnecessary time waste. These included:
- Scheduling inspections en masse instead of one at a time.
- Use a letter-stuffing machine to send out inspection letters instead of hand stuffing envelopes.
- Use a mobile inspection app on an iPad to complete inspections and trigger work orders.
- Stop sending out duplicative inspection finding letters to tenants when property management is following up with the same letter.
- Save memos in the inspection app instead of sending out original inspection letters to property management.
The IT and operations departments worked together to design a training script, training plan, implementation plan, and standard operating procedures for the new inspection process.
The project has led to a 96 percent reduction in non-value added work and cost around $2,000 in hardware and setup. Starting in 2017, this new system also allowed SHA to inspect twice the number of units per year. This program is ongoing, and HSA has found even more ways to streamline the inspections process.
In the face of budget cuts, SHA found internal solutions and used their creativity to solve a systemic problem in the face of budget cuts by using technological solutions and private sector process improvement tools. The results? More efficient inspections and maintenance assistance, which in turn lead to more successful field staff and better customer service.