HUD Housing Resource Locator App & Mobile Website – A ReviewLeave a Comment
Being someone who is currently searching for housing that is disability accessible, I was glad to have learned about the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) launch of its innovative mobile application and website that aims to enhance HUD customer service. The HUD Resource Locator seeks to provide real-time HUD housing information to those who want to be quickly connected to building managers, public housing authority officials, and property management companies in order to gather more understanding about the availability of housing options, and answer the housing-related questions they may have.
How the HUD Resource Locator Works
The HUD Resource Locator utilizes GIS (Geographic Information System) technology to indicate where resources can be found in order to allow anyone with smartphone, tablet, or desktop access to retain pertinent housing-related contact information. This tool can be used by many stakeholders, including helping professionals researching housing options for individuals and families who are homeless, and families trying to locate viable housing after a disaster has occurred. In a technologically driven society, it is essential for such information to be readily available to those who need it, and this online and mobile resource locator hopes to make that possible.
The mobile app and mobile website includes the following:
- Information about commonly requested housing-related resources from HUD field and regional offices throughout the country.
- Location data and contact information for HUD Field and Regional Offices, Public Housing Authorities, Multifamily Housing, Low Income Housing Tax Credit apartments, USDA Rural Housing, and Continuum of Care Homeless staff.
- Maps that are seamlessly linked via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, email and text messages.
- GIS and Browser Location Detection to show resources in proximity to the user.
- Ability to export search results to Excel and to generate a custom PDF resource guide.
Where to Access the HUD Resource Locator
The HUD Resource Locator is available via:
My Review of the HUD Resource Locator App & Mobile Website
When I set out to test the HUD resource locator, I was very excited because I thought it would be a great tool for me to use as I search for housing over the next 6-12 months. Once I reviewed the app and mobile website, I was left with mixed feelings surrounding the lack of user-friendliness and the navigation difficulties that I had not expected.
Lack of Ease in Accessing Information When Attempting to View Specific Housing Options
When I began researching housing in a sample location (Columbia, SC), I was met with a cluster of options available in that area. It was a bit overwhelming to see so many locations marked on the map, and I did not know where to look first.
I chose a housing option icon at random to review, and saw that clicking with the mouse on the laptop or tapping the icon on my iPad did not always allow the information about the selected resource to pop up and be viewed. It took expanding the map several times for that information to finally come up. With the mobile website, expanding the map by so much caused the pop-up information to be out of range on the laptop screen. On both versions of the locator, resource icons for some locations were on top of each other, and it was only by expanding the map by a good margin was I able to get a full view of each resource separately.
When I selected one particular housing option, its information reappeared when I attempted to select a completely different resource to view. That caused me great confusion since they were located on different streets, though not that far apart (as indicated on the map). I was unable to read the second housing option I wanted to view at all, which was frustrating.
Map Icon Legend Not Easily Found on App or Mobile Website
The resource locator uses different map icons to indicate key site locations on the map, and within the reviews of each housing option. On the actual app and mobile website, understanding the meaning of all of map icons is not easy to do because there is not a full key legend available that explains each one. The main icons on the map are located on the app and mobile website, but the information that is covered within the housing resource review are not found. The only way I was able to access that information was when I exported a full review report of the sample area I was reviewing. In that report review, it explained the kind of information each icon covered. The only other way I could see one getting the legend details is from the application manual, which is over 30 pages long.
Not having a full grasp of what these icons and symbols mean makes it challenging to quickly assess whether a resource should be heavily considered for further research and outreach, or not.
Concern About the Accessibility & User-Friendliness Across Abilities
Disabled persons are one of the many groups who benefit from HUD housing and accommodation requirements; this tool would ameliorate the barrier of accessing information we face when we may not be physically able to visit a location, or know the starting point to research housing. With the difficulties of expanding and viewing housing options information, it concerned me that this tool may not be easily readable and navigable for those with visual disabilities, particularly those who use screen readers. If this segment of the disabled community is not able to utilize this tool because it is hard to view or understand, then this tool has certainly missed the inclusion and empowerment marks that it was supposed to meet.
Those with visual disabilities are not the only group who may shy away from the application. As I mentioned earlier, I was overwhelmed with how “cluttered” the screen got when I viewed certain parts of Columbia for housing. This cluttered view may present a challenge for those with sensory processing conditions like autism or brain injuries who may have trouble filtering information that is not organized or clustered together uniformly. Again, if there are disabled persons who cannot use this tool, then will not assist us in our search for appropriate housing.
Opinions of Those Who Reviewed the Mobile Website
Due to the frustrations I experienced with the app and mobile website, I reached out to two individuals, and asked if they would give me their views about the mobile website. (I chose for them to review the mobile website and not the app since the website version is easily accessible across computer desktop brands, unlike iOS and Android.)
The first reviewer I reached out to about the mobile website is a fellow disabled person. Here was her thoughts about her attempt to find housing in her area:
I attempted to use the HUD Resource Locator from my laptop. It asked me to put in my city and state. I did. It zoomed in on a map and then asked me to put in a street address to get a list of HUD locations, but it would not allow me to type anything else in the box. Also, little thought bubbles kept popping up, advising me to do this or that, but nowhere did I see the list of resources. I found myself frustrated and navigated away from the page quickly.
The second reviewer I reached out to, a non-disabled person who is familiar with what is available in his area, had similar problems as the first reviewer, when it came to items popping up on the screen and not being able to access resources. However, this person was able to finally see the resources in his area (though he was not sure how he was able to remove the details box that stymied his ability to access information at the beginning). He stated that the tool offers plenty of information, but is very awkward to navigate. Like me, he realized that the map did not have a detailed key legend, and when he went to “show all,” it was not immediately clear what the map icons signified. One positive aspect he noted was that the locator has information for all three areas of the metro, not just from his state alone.
One key point both reviewers noted: the locator did not identify all of the low-income housing resources they knew existed in their communities. If the map does not provide updated and accurate information about the resources that actually exist, then what true purpose is it serving those who are in need of the knowledge?
I believe that the HUD Resource Locator has great potential, but there are definitely improvements that need to be made in order for it to effectively do the job for which it was created – be a helpful resource in navigating appropriate housing for one’s needs. I came away from reviewing the locator with lukewarm feelings, something that greatly surprised me. I will try to use this tool in my search, but it will not be used as much as I had hoped. If the kinks that currently exist are fixed, then this would be an excellent tool for anyone, individuals, families, disabled persons, and community workers, to share and learn about what housing choices are available in their communities.
(Featured headlining image: Courtesy of StockSnap.io. Screenshots are my own, via iPad.)
(Note about the two reviewers featured in my review: The reviewers of the HUD Resource Locator were not compensated by me whatsoever. They did so for free, and gave their earnest opinion about their experience with the mobile website version of the tool. The reviewers did not know each other, and lived in different parts of the country from myself and from each other, which made their experiences with reviewing the mobile website appropriate to share as additional examples of the challenges that exist for this tool.)