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Highlights

The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 authorized appropriations of $10 million annually for the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) from fiscal years 2009 through 2011. Established in 1971, HAC is a nonprofit rural housing organization that aims to improve housing conditions for low-income rural residents, especially in high-need areas such as Indian country and Appalachia and among groups such as farmworkers. As part of its mission, HAC also offers technical assistance in developing affordable rural housing and capacity building to a variety of groups involved in rural housing. HAC signs agreements each year with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) detailing how it will use its appropriations. The 2008 act required GAO to report on HAC's use of appropriated funds over the last 7 years, from 2003 to 2009--a period when HAC received more than $20 million in appropriations. To respond to this mandate, our work had four objectives: to (1) describe HAC programs and activities, (2) identify the sources of HAC's funding and its use of the funds it receives, (3) discuss the results of HAC's programs and activities, and (4) determine what is known about HAC's effectiveness in assisting rural communities.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Other 1. The Executive Director of the Housing Assistance Council should take steps to develop techniques that would more reliably measure its performance by working to increase response rates to its surveys and designing the surveys to track stakeholders by category. For example, HAC should ensure that only loan product users respond to questions about the use of loan products.
Closed - Implemented
In July 2014, HAC officials told us that they made efforts to increase response rates. They said that HAC implemented a more robust incentive plan in 2013, including offering electronic gift certificates and charitable contributions, as well as increasing the distribution to try and improve response rates, but the response rate was consistent with the 2011 rate. In addition, HAC modified its 2013 stakeholder survey by providing a more logical and user-friendly flow to the questionnaire. Redirection and warning indicators were incorporated at key junctures to help ensure questions were directed toward appropriate and relevant responders. For example, skip patterns made sure only responders that received loan products answered questions about loans. As a result, the 2013 survey instrument better tracked survey respondent types and survey results were more conclusive and reliable.
Other 2. The Executive Director of the Housing Assistance Council should consider ways to better track long-term outcomes of its activities--for example, adding requirements to its program guidelines to track SHOP recipients and adding questions to its customer surveys that would provide information on long-term outcomes.
Closed - Implemented
In response to a recommendation in our December 2010 report, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), has developed an impact measurement plan to better track the outcome of its activities. Dated June 2015, the plan lays out how HAC will collect both qualitative and quantitative data for assessing the quality and relevance of HAC services to be used for improving those services. The plan emphasizes measuring both inputs and outputs, including organizational outcomes such as business plans created, units built by affordability levels, and types of housing constructed, to better measure what organizations gain as a result of their engagement with HAC. Planning is also underway to measure the impacts on the communities HAC serves, such as jobs developed and rent burdens reduced. In a separate effort, HAC surveyed its Self-Help Housing Program (SHOP) recipients in 2011 and plans to follow-up to see if the data has changed.

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