The San Francisco Foundation & Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
Creating a New Tool to Help Solve the Affordable Housing Crisis
Housing Readiness Report is an affordable housing tool that provides Bay Area housing advocates with data, resources, and tools to track, monitor, and engage in their cities’ housing plans and policies to ensure equitable racial and economic outcomes.
The Partnership for Bay’s Future (PBF), an initiative of San Francisco Foundation, works with community, faith, and private sector leaders, as well as housing experts, elected officials, and residents to help produce, preserve, and protect affordable housing in the Bay Area. Their work has two main focus areas: investing in the production and preservation of affordable homes, and advancing policy changes to protect residents who are already in affordable homes.
In the Bay Area, housing units are being built slower than in the rest of the country. This is illustrated by the Bay’s staggering jobs-to-housing ratio: for every new home permitted from 2009 to 2019 in San Francisco and San Jose metro areas, more than 3 jobs were created.
To address growing housing anxiety in the Bay Area, California state officials have called on the region to plan for over 400 thousand new homes in the next decade as part of the Regional Housing Allocation Program (RHNA). To work towards RHNA goals, the Association of Bay Area Governments established local housing mandates for cities, towns, and counties which are divided based on income and affordability levels. To create accountability for jurisdictions to build more housing, PBF needed a way to clearly communicate the impact of the housing crisis on the Bay Area’s most vulnerable communities and how ready each city is to address mounting housing pressures. Exygy partnered with PBF to create that tool.
User Interviews to Unpack Challenges
Exygy began by interviewing an array of users to clearly understand the problem landscape and identify any gaps that needed to be addressed by the tool. The stakeholders involved included local community-based organizations, housing departments from local jurisdictions who are participating in the RHNA process, Challenge Grant Fellows who work with jurisdictions to protect renters and affordable housing, and San Francisco Foundation staff who created an initial proof-of-concept for the tool.
Design Sprint: Problem Statement to Prototype in Four Days
After we concluded the user interviews, Exygy’s designers kicked off a week-long participatory design sprint. Design sprints allow us to rapidly generate breakthrough ideas, and to eliminate the guesswork and riskiness of building new products. They are a highly collaborative activity that involves key stakeholders; our participants included the PBF team, Challenge Grant Fellows, community partners, and strategic partners from CZI and PolicyLink. Here’s how the week unfolded:
Day 1: Define the work to be done. We reviewed the project background, identifed the audience and user segments, and presented research on comparable and inspirational tools both in the affordable housing space, as well as in the larger market. SFF staff and Fellows showcased their prior work around accessing key housing indicators across jurisdictions.
Our refined problem statements from this session became:
Community partners are coming to the website to access key housing indicators for their jurisdiction so that they can advocate for their local jurisdiction to meet their RHNA goals.
Policy makers (city staff) are coming to the website to access key housing indicators across multiple jurisdictions so that they can inform policy proposals to meet their RHNA goals.
Day 2: Collaborative ideation. Participants took turns drawing on paper to map potential features that met the needs of the problem statements from the day before and shared their drawings with the group. We voted on the top features we would like to see explored through designs.
Day 3: Prototype. Exygy designers spent a day creating the initial design prototypes (in the form of wireframes) to start validating with the participants.
Day 4: Rapid feedback and defined success. Our designers presented the initial designs to the participants, and received feedback. This design sprint was crucial in helping us define what data needed to be collected to ensure the tool was successfully meeting the needs of users. The agreed-upon success metrics included fresh/local data, storytelling, effective call to actions, and racial equity.
Rapid Iterations to Create a User-Informed Final Tool
Our designers brought the wireframes from the Sprint to the participants from the first round of user interviews. Based on their input, we iterated on the designs, and worked closely with the client team to identify the scope of features to build, and to regularly collect their feedback as the designs evolved. We spent the next 4-5 weeks iterating on the design.
At the same time, Exygy’s engineering team began prototyping what was feasible on the technical side. We began by aggregating data from the Association of Bay Area Governments, and Bay Area Equity Atlas. We also partnered with the client team to define how to display the various indicators that needed to be used, and how they should be calculated. The indicators include:
Diversity index: originally developed by PolicyLink, which measures the representation of 6 major racial/ethnic groups in a population
Rent burden: the percentage of a population that pays more than 30% of their income on rent
Affordable housing production: how many permits are issued for low income housing
Housing policies: number of adopted policies related to producing and preserving more housing
In the end, we developed a methodology not only for the 4 indicators above, but also for ranking the 11 Bay Area jurisdictions into Gold, Silver, and Bronze tiers.
Launched in July 2022, the Housing Readiness Report is a digital tool that allows community partners and policy makers to access data-based resources to create and advocate for robust housing element plans.
From a technical standpoint, the tool was built to ensure scalability to expand across regions with minimal technical maintenance — opening the door for more impact in the future as jurisdictions outside of the Bay Area look to better understand their affordable housing landscape.
Through trainings and workshops, PBF is in a strong position to elevate public visibility of the tool so that it’s discovered, relevant, and adopted by anyone who wants to learn more about the affordable housing crisis in the Bay Area, and who wants to actively help create more affordable housing.