The term “skid row” was first used to describe the makeshift roads found in the 19th-century Pacific Northwest, where loggers would drag trees down from the foothills to a waiting sawmill below.
Today, Skid Row Housing Trust, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit developer, is trying to eliminate the “heavy lifting” associated with compliance reporting, and save a few trees in the process.
For the first 15 years of its existence, Skid Row Housing Trust did compliance monitoring and reporting manually, navigating a sea of spreadsheets to document each tenant’s income and social services history. “It was very labor intensive, very complicated,” said Jo-Anne Cohen, asset manager for Skid Row Housing. “Not only was it wasting a lot of trees, but it was wasting a lot of time too.”
As the nonprofit developer continued to grow, becoming the largest provider of Shelter Plus Care units in the Los Angeles area, its compliance requirements began to spiral out of control. The organization now manages 20 buildings and 1,250 units mostly serving the chronically homeless in Los Angeles’ Skid Row, a 5-square-mile tract encompassing the most blighted area of the city.
Since all of its properties use some form of subsidy—from state and federal low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) to McKinney-Vento funds—the organization needed to simplify the LIHTC recertification process, as well as document the history of each tenant’s social services.
So in 2004, Skid Row Housing began using DataHub, a Web-based application made by Domus Systems, Inc., that organizes affordable housing compliance data. Because DataHub is Web-based, companies that use it don’t have to host the application, and all updates are done automatically upon login. Some of the application’s key features include automated annual updates of area median income data and annual income recertification reminders.
The California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (CTCAC), which administers both federal and state LIHTCs, requires individual income certifications as well as “project status reports,” which are property- specific snapshots of each tenant’s rental and income-certification history.
Before Skid Row Housing switched to a compliance application, it would collect rent and income information for each tenant from its accounting department, and manually input information on each unit and tenant individually for each building. Then, Cohen would have had to take those rent roll sheets and produce the projectstatus report.
In October 2007, CTCAC conducted physical inspections of six Skid Row Housing single-room occupancy hotels, and asked to see the corresponding paperwork. Using DataHub, “I was able to print both the rent roll and the project-status report for all six hotels in one afternoon,” Cohen said. “In the past, it would’ve taken me two to three days to do all of that.”
Shelter Plus Care is a federal program that provides rental assistance for the chronically homeless, in conjunction with supportive services funded from outside sources. As part of the program, Skid Row Housing needed a way to keep track of the social services that each tenant had used.
Through DataHub, case managers input weekly status reports, allowing Skid Row Housing to easily produce a history of a tenant’s social services. The log might show psychiatric referrals or referrals for physical ailments, important considerations when dealing with chronically homeless populations who often have undocumented medical histories. This is especially critical for those who are both homeless and living with AIDS, a population for which Skid Row Housing has developed several projects.
In all, DataHub has allowed the organization to maximize its limited resources. “It allows the staff doing the re-certifications to take a snapshot of who hasn’t recertified, I get a snapshot of who’s living in the building and what their income is, and our social services people get to look at the service history,” said Cohen.
In October 2007, Domus Systems unveiled a series of new features for DataHub.
The new certificate-in-process feature allows a property manager to see all income certifications that need to be done in the next 120 days. The tool categorizes certification as “in process” or “not started,” as well as by number of days until certification is due (or how overdue the certification is).
Also in October, the company rolled out its funds management module, an accounting application that shows how funds received from outside sources, such as the government or philanthropic organizations, are spent on services or operating expenses. The report can be viewed by property or by fund provider. The tool is also useful for organizations that use grant money for operating expenses, allowing organizations to create and update lists of recurring property-specific expense items—expenses that can’t be directly attributed to a specific resident—and show how grant money is distributed.