State of the Web

April 2003

Annual Report on Achievements and Plans for HUD's Web Products

Did you know that...

  • 36% of all Americans have used the web to look for a place to live, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project? That's 40 million people - more than 1/3 of all Internet users in America.
  • Americans would rather use the web to find government information (39%) than get it by telephone (37%)?
  • according to a recent study of HUD's kiosk program, an estimated 100,000 low-income families have taken steps to improve their housing situation because they used HUD's kiosks?
  • Nielson/Netratings estimated 1.88 million unique visitors used HUD's website in the period November 2002 through January 2003, 27% of them minorities?
  • all four of HUD's major program offices now require their grantees and partners to do some or all of their work with HUD, online?
Eight years ago, HUD's Internet website was born. Since then, the web has become integral to every aspect of HUD's work, from informing prospective homebuyers to assigning FHA loan case numbers to training employees. This recap of the achievements and plans for HUD's websites, kiosks, Answer Machines, and Web Clinics underscore their value to the Department.


Reaching more people with information they want and need: Monthly visitors to HUD's Homes and Communities page jumped by 22% in the past year, from 600,000 per month to 730,000 per month. In January 2003, more than 830,000 people visited HUD's website - the largest single-month total in its 8-year history. Three key factors contribute to this trend: good understanding of the audience, solid website design, and strong outreach to potential website users.

In September 2002, Giga Corporation, a noted global information technology consulting firm, assessed the usability of HUD's website. "Usability" refers to the ease with which target audiences can find what they want on the website. The results were gratifying. HUD's front page scored 80 out of 100 (most sites reviewed score in the 60's), and the site as a whole scored 81 out of 91 in usability. Of particular note: HUD scored 10 out of 10 on "knowing our audience" and clarity of "purpose of the site."

Outreach efforts - including website demonstrations at the Kentucky State Fair, the Black College Spring Break National Job Fair in Atlanta, the Southeast Alaska Native Culture Fair, the Asian Capacity Building Conference in Fresno, and the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association Wholesale Lending Fair - helped promote HUD's website.

Addressing needs of our Spanish-speaking audience: In February 2003, HUD debuted, the Spanish version of HUD's popular "Homes and Communities" website, making HUD one of the only government agencies to offer its website in Spanish. More than 1,000 pages have been translated into Spanish in this major effort to make HUD information available to our Spanish-speaking customers.

Providing better local information: In October 2002, HUD added a new dimension to its website: local information organized by state. Fifty-two "state pages" (4,000 files) replaced the old "local office" pages (20,500 files) making the website leaner, cleaner, less redundant, and more informative. The new state pages bring consistency - in taxonomy, content, and format - so that Americans can find basic information about local homebuying programs, local rental assistance programs, and more, in each and every state. Citizens get a full array of options because the state pages "connect the dots," highlighting not only HUD programs, but also state and local programs operated by HUD's grantees and partners.

Response has been terrific. In the first 3 months, use of HUD's "local information" jumped from a monthly average of 34,683 visits to a monthly average of 206,207 visits - an increase of nearly 600%. Clearly, people want that "local connection."

Using new technology to connect people with people: In January 2003, HUD piloted its new "real time chat" technology, christened "Person-to-Person." For the first time, citizens could come to the HUD website and get immediate answers to their questions from "live" HUD employees. No waiting. No voice mail.

In the 30-day pilot, Housing staff in the Richmond office responded to questions from 688 first-time homebuyers across the nation, handling as many as 66 requests per day. And the reaction? "This is a great service. Kudos to HUD!"

Empowering those HUD normally wouldn't reach: The most comprehensive study of HUD's kiosk program to date, requested by HUD's Deputy Secretary, concluded that HUD's kiosks do, indeed, provide a valuable service to HUD's customers. The conclusions, based on observations of 1,500 kiosk users and interviews with 1,000 kiosk users across the country, revealed:

  • 78.4% of kiosk users come from low income households;
  • 73% are minorities;
  • 88% found the kiosks easy to use;
  • 87% said they did not have access to the internet; thus, the kiosk was a welcomed alternative; and
  • 74% were seeking information about housing - 39% were looking for rental housing and 35% were looking for homes for sale.

Most important, 74% of those who participated in the study did something with the information they found on the kiosks - talked to a housing counselor (13%), saw a home for sale or apartment for rent (21%), visited a rental office (9%), visited a HUD office (8%), or returned to the kiosk for more information (23%).

Helping HUD's partners create websites that serve the public: HUD's Web Clinics continue to be an unqualified success, and more and more HUD managers and outside organizations are requesting the Departmental Web Team to conduct these clinics for their audiences. These training sessions - which target HUD grantees, non-profits, state and local governments, public housing agencies, faith-based and community organizations, and others - teach HUD's partners how to develop and market online "retail" outlets for the services that HUD funds through its grants and other programs.

In 3 years, the Departmental Web Team has taught 66 clinics, attracting close to 2,000 HUD partners from 1,500 organizations. Clinics are resulting in more and better websites, serving citizens. Pam Martin, a Clinic participant in Albuquerque, offers this:

We started our web site because of the clarity of the HUD presentation done in Albuquerque. Suddenly, a web site seemed do-able.... the website has won 35 awards...the number of visitors has grown from 200/month in November 2001 to 3,400 in August 2002...if a busy 54-year old psychologist with no background or training in web development can do this, most people should be able to do it."

Besides helping our partners to create public service websites that work, HUD's Web Clinics enhance good will between HUD and its partners:

  • "One of the most useful workshops I've attended in years - you guys should charge for this!" -Lincoln Hills Development Corporation, Indianapolis

  • "In the past, I thought HUD's 'reaching out' was only a dream. But after this clinic, I know they are serious about empowering people." -Corinth Housing Authority, Mississippi

Improving management and controls of HUD's web products: The "web" - just like everything else - has to be managed efficiently and effectively.

  • Web Organization: Four intensive training sessions, weekly conference calls, and daily communication have turned the Regional Web Managers into a strong "virtual" unit, adding tremendous value and depth to HUD's web management team. Similar development occurred among the Headquarters program office web managers, who meet monthly to share information and knowledge. In past months, field and Headquarters web managers worked on common issues, producing tangible results: an enhanced online subsidized apartment search, an easy-to-use listing of public housing agencies, and a pool of "good stories" showing how HUD's programs are affecting America.
  • Web Policies and Standards: The Deputy Secretary issued updated and consolidated web policies; and the Departmental Web Team developed new web publication standards to promote quality and consistency in all of HUD's web efforts.
  • Quality Management Reviews: Web management standards are covered in HUD's Quality Management Reviews, ensuring that web operations are reviewed on a routine basis.
  • Management Plans: Web-related initiatives are included in most Management Plans, both in the field and in Headquarters, further underscoring the importance of the web in achieving HUD's mission and strategic goals.
  • Management Controls: New management controls reduced the number of people with access to HUD's web servers from 200 to approximately 55, without sacrificing the Department's ability to maintain its websites.
  • Email: While use of HUD's website increased, web-generated email dropped from 9,000 per month in March 2002 to 5,000 per month in February 2003. That tells us that customers are finding what they need without having to ask. By redesigning the contact information on HUD's website, we streamlined the routing of customer email questions to the appropriate responder.
  • Emergency Procedures: Procedures for using the web in emergency situations have been developed and documented in the Department's Continuation of Operations Plan.
  • Automated Content Management: Maybe most important, HUD has taken the first steps toward creating a robust, automated web content management system that will reduce HUD's dependency on web support contracts and significantly improve management controls. The Departmental Web Team engaged an experienced consultant to lay out a long-term strategy for acquiring and implementing a content management system and to begin documenting system requirements. Though it will take a number of years to complete, HUD's automated web content management system will make creating and maintaining web content faster and easier.

Plans for the Future

To make sure using the web is part of the way we do business, HUD's web management goals have become part of the Department's annual Management Plan. That's an important step in putting the web on the radar screen of every manager at HUD.

  1. Support HUD's Strategic Goals: Our number one priority is to make sure HUD's web products support the Department's mission and strategic goals. Plans include:
    • Promote National Homeownership Month, highlighting information and tools available to prospective homebuyers on HUD's website;

    • Teach homebuyers "how to buy a home" through an online webcast;

    • Offer Person-to-Person real-time advice for first-time homebuyers, on a permanent basis;

    • Add a new topic on "owning a home" to HUD's website, providing options and tips on home improvements, loss mitigation, refinancing, and reverse mortgages;

    • Expand the "assisted housing apartment search" to include all rental assistance programs;

    • Create a web "toolkit" for practitioners working with farmworkers and residents of colonias and for faith-based and community organizations;

    • Increase information on local resources for the homeless, on HUD kiosks;

    • Promote fair housing activities and events;

    • Showcase "good stories" about efforts to stop predatory lending and housing discrimination;

    • Teach Web Clinics for partners who need a little extra help setting up websites that work.

  2. Improve Content: We can improve the quality of our websites and kiosks by eliminating redundant content and by consolidating, editing, and rewriting narrative to make it simpler and more audience-friendly. Initiatives include:
    • Connect the dots" among federal, state, and local programs, showing people how to use programs in combinations, to achieve their objectives.

    • Tell the "good stories" about ways people use HUD's programs successfully, to encourage replication;

    • Use innovative technologies - webcasts, Person-to-Person real time chats, and others - to deliver information and services in more effective ways;

    • Expand and promote "," translating one million more words and marketing the website to its target audience; and
    • Create interactive opportunities to make citizens participants in - not just consumers of - government.

  3. Improve Technology and Content Delivery Systems: New technologies present opportunities to deliver content in more efficient and effective ways.

    • Continue to implement an automated content management system capable of feeding many methods of content delivery: Internet, intranet, kiosks, personal digital assistants (PDAs), faxes, and any other form of output that may arise.

  4. Improve HUD's Web Management Organization: HUD's web management organization - Web Managers, Web Coordinators, and technical support staff - must keep pace with HUD's growing reliance on the websites.
    • Develop and conduct training programs, for both current and future Web Managers; and
    • Analyze long-term directions for HUD's web management organization.
  5. Improve Web Management Practices: As HUD's web products become increasingly critical to operations; we will keep a tight rein on management practices and controls. In the coming months, the Department will:

    • Study the impact of HUD's website on achievement of the Department's mission and strategic goals and develop commensurate performance standards;

    • Begin to document cost-benefits, cost avoidances, and other efficiencies achieved by using the web; and>
    • Establish a quality control review process to monitor HUD's web products.

  6. Improve Customer Service: Customer service is the very motivation for HUD's web products - helping citizens, business partners, and HUD employees solve their problems and achieve their objectives. HUD will:

    • Create customer service standards for HUD's web products and support efforts;

    • Issue a "Quick Guide to HUD's Website" to help HUD employees direct customers to information about buying a home, finding affordable housing, and strengthening communities;

    • Improve email management, to ensure that customers get quick, effective, and audience-friendly responses to their questions;

    • Publicize HUD's web products, so people will know what we have to offer; and

    • Develop partnerships with other government agencies to provide even more information on HUD's kiosks to help low-income families find homes.

Eight years ago, HUD had no website. Now, we cannot do our work without the web.

Imagine what the next 8 years will bring!

Content Archived: March 2, 2011