The Housing Authority for Baltimore City provides affordable housing to communities in Baltimore.

Role
User Research, Usability Testing

Team
Matt B, Jacquelyn I, Bridget W

Tools
Tobii 360 Eye Tracking System
X Labs Head/Eye/Gaze Tracker

The Housing Authority for Baltimore City (HABC) is an affordable housing authority serving the Baltimore area. It provides individuals with access to public housing programs and housing voucher choice programs.

Objective: To determine how easy it is for users to apply for housing on the HABC website. Our recommendations were presented to the HABC.

— THE PROBLEM

It is difficult to find key resources on the website

PROBLEM #1

The difference between the public housing program and the voucher housing program is not clear on the website. Especially due to a use of acronyms throughout the website. This could make it difficult for individuals to know what they are applying to.

PROBLEM #2

Applying for public housing is difficult. Individuals have to download, print and mail out a lengthly pdf. The PDF's are also not easy to find on the website.

PROBLEM #3

It is not easy to find where to apply for disability accessible housing on the website. Additionally, HABC uses the term "reasonable accommodation", which is not a commonly used term when discussing disability.

PROBLEM #4

If individuals are unable to apply for housing for whatever reason the website does not provide them with any alternatives to finding housing or provide details of what they could do in the meantime. This may leave families feeling abandoned during this period.

—USER RESEARCH

Who uses public housing and vouchers?


87% of the individuals living in public housing in Maryland make 30% below the median income in the area.

— Propublica.org


68% of the individuals who use housing vouchers in Maryland are seniors, children or people with disabilities.

— Center on Budget and Priorities


98% of the individuals using public housing in Maryland are people of color.

— Propublica.org

— USABILITY TESTING

Conducting an eyetracking study to understand where and how long individuals look for resources

Based on our findings, we could tell that the website had issues with findability. Thus, we decided to conduct an eye tracking study to determine individual's gazing behaviors. We conducted the study at the University of Baltimore's User Research Lab using Tobii T60 Eye Tracking System and remotely using X Labs Head/Eye/Gaze Tracker.

We recruited 6 participants in total. All participants were within the correct income range for public housing or housing vouchers and 4/6 of the participants identified as people of color. We asked participants to complete 5 tasks.

Task #1

Find information about applying for public housing.
Task #2

Find the request form for accessible housing.
Task #3

Find an apartment that accommodates disabilities
Task #4

Find information about applying for the voucher program.
Task #5

Find out what to do if the waitlist is closed.
— KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS

The success rates and completion times of the tasks with the lowest performance

— RECOMMENDATIONS

Specific findings and recommendations for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City

Visual Clarity

Users skipped over important announcements to look towards the color blocks at the bottom of the page. Increasing text size and making important pieces of information more visually appealing would solve this issue.

Acronyms and Jargon

People had trouble associating “Vouchers” with HCVP. We recommend using the term Voucher Program. Additionally, users didn't associate "Reasonable Accommodation" with housing for those with disabilities. Many looked up "Accessible or Disability" and couldn't find relevant resources. We recommend using the terms Accessible Housing or Disability Housing.

Employing PDF's

Most applications are in PDF format, they take long to load and they are difficult to find. This was especially true for the Disability Housing Request form and the Public Housing Application. Individuals would need a printer in order to fill them out and would need to have access to transport to mail it out. We recommend creating a webform, with an online signature capability.

Resources for Next Steps

There is little guidance or resources as to what to do when the waitlist is closed. Users looked all over the website. We recommended implementing a way that people can be notified when the waitlist is open again. We also recommend  resources to guide people to temporary or longer term housing alternatives.

Final Considerations

This was a fulfilling study to delve into. Being able to look for ways to increase the user experience for communities that are often overlooked was empowering. We were able to present our recommendations to a representative at HABC.

If we had more time and resources, something that I would want to do is to recruit more than 6 participants and to recruit individuals with disabilities. While we were able to see that the website does not do a great job of making it easy to apply for ADA accessible housing, I am sure that there is more we could learn from having conducted the study on some individuals in this community.

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