Getting accredited through the Affordable Housing Accreditation Board (AHAB) can help your organization advance its mission in a number of ways, from improving communication with stakeholders to verifying how well you’re meeting key standards of excellence. Read on to hear from five accredited agencies that went through the process.
Jeff Weslow: Thanks for talking with us today. All five of you cited your desire to be seen as a role model in the affordable housing industry as a driving factor for going through the accreditation process. Can you tell us more about this?
Allen Keith LePrevost, executive director, Hightstown Housing Authority (NJ): Public housing authorities should set the example for rental housing in their respective market areas. Accreditation adds to our knowledge base, provides us with examples of what other authorities are doing around the country to help us improve, and become an example for others to follow. The process sets standards for management, tenant relations, and physical plant excellence, demonstrating the capabilities and professionalism of the management and staff.
Claire Russ, director of research & program analysis, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (OH):
Our agency has always been passionate about being an industry leader in innovation. We were interested in the accreditation process to evaluate our performance in the context of our peers’ frontline expertise, to adopt new methodologies to improve our agency’s effectiveness, and to affirm our commitment to the residents and families we serve throughout Cuyahoga county.
Carla Godwin, Moving to Work & resident services administrator, Housing Authority of Columbus, Georgia: We believed the accreditation process would provide valuable feedback from an objective third party. More importantly, we knew we would have access to the best practices of other high-performing affordable housing providers.
JW: The accreditation process requires an investment of time and resources from multiple departments. How did you get buy-in from staff?
Claire Russ: Accreditation affects the whole organization, not just the leadership team, so it was important to have everyone involved from the start. Establishing trust and support in the beginning was crucial, particularly when we had to hone our existing processes in the context of a successful application and improved long-term outcomes.
Debbie Barry, deputy director, Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (OH): We communicated to our staff that this process was a way to get ourselves organized, earn additional recognition, and market and sell ourselves in the community, state, and nationally.
Sarah Max, assistant to the executive director for housing program administration, Housing Authority of Snohomish County (WA): Our executive director decided that pursuing accreditation would be a great way to compile and review our agency’s procedures and policies to assess how good of a job we were doing at carrying out our objectives.
JW: How did you handle the challenge of going through the accreditation process with limited resources?
Allen Keith LePrevost: The biggest challenge is always time. Much of the daily work in a small authority falls back to the director. The accreditation process gets put on the list of daily tasks to accomplish and, unfortunately, tends to get pushed off. Once accreditation was prioritized, we just picked a number of tasks and accomplished them each day.
Carla Godwin: The only challenge was the time to locate documentation and complete the application narratives, but we were able to divide the work between the executive leadership staff. The comprehensive examination of operations, policies, procedures, practices, communications, relationships, and by-laws uncovered exemplary practices, areas of strength, and areas where improvements can be made.
Claire Russ: It was important to plan ahead and make sure we had a team to address the document gathering and that we had engaged experts to determine if this was the time to streamline policies and procedures, because there is a front-end investment of time for the process. An agency’s efforts will be more successful if everyone is on board from the get-go.
JW: What advice can you offer other agencies considering going through the accreditation process?
Sarah Max: I would recommend appointing one staff member as the point person to interface with AHAB. There are many moving parts to completing an application, and the agency needs one voice to filter all the information that is coming from different departments. It makes for a more cohesive application and protects other staff’s time, so staff is contributing only to their area of expertise. Overall, the accreditation process was a great experience for our agency. This process has been the impetus for positive internal process improvement.
Allen Keith LePrevost: Be humble. Realize none of us has a perfect operation, and by completing this process, we are all learning and getting better. Try and enjoy the process. It’s a great experience if you accept it as a challenge and a learning experience.
Carla Godwin: We would encourage and challenge other housing authorities to pursue accreditation. It will lead to greater public trust and increased credibility for the affordable housing industry. And it allows for great networking opportunities among other accredited agencies.
Debbie Barry: Accreditation brings an added layer of professionalism and trust to the industry and community. It is worth the time and effort.
Claire Russ: Every housing authority has internal standards and rules for operations, but the accreditation process ensures these parameters present soundly and withstand scrutiny externally. Take time to answer each question and identify the challenges/opportunities your housing authority has to address, particularly those that might be time-consuming. Going through the accreditation process may help streamline operations, and certainly, attaining accreditation will build trust with the residents, stakeholders, and community we serve.
JW: Thank you all for sharing your insight.