Connecting state and local government leaders
As Colorado embarks on an aggressive program to build affordable housing, the state is turning to a website to engage and involve residents as the projects unfold.
Like many states, Colorado is navigating a serious shortage of affordable housing. It ranks as one of the least affordable states in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fed up, voters last year approved a ballot measure that looks to address the shortage and help local governments build more affordable housing in their communities.
The measure, known as Proposition 123, pulls 0.1% of the state's revenue from taxable income and applies it to affordable housing. Local governments applying for the funding must commit to increasing affordable housing by 3% each year for the next three years to be eligible for the money. The program is administered by the Governor's Office of Economic Development and International Trade and the Department of Local Affairs.
The deadline to apply for the program was Nov. 1, and more than 235 local governments did. Now, these communities face the hard work of getting affordable housing built. They’ll need the support and input of local residents, and that is where EngageDOLA.org comes in.
To coordinate that outreach, the state’s Department of Local Affairs, or DOLA, is building out the website, a centralized hub for stakeholders to learn about and stay up to date on the initiative. The site includes a detailed FAQ, a timeline for the effort and a forum-like space where residents can submit questions. To keep the site informative and relevant, a survey feature invites users to note which aspects of the program, such as the permitting process or the localities’ mandatory commitments, require more explanation.
“We need to be able to provide that one-stop resource because there's a lot that goes on with Prop. 123,” said Cory Nicholson, the department’s communications director. “It's a massive endeavor.”
It’s no secret residents are increasingly expecting their governments to have an easy-to-navigate, helpful online presence. By a 2-to-1 margin, residents nationwide prefer accessing government services digitally, according to a McKinsey & Company survey last year.
Having one site where people can engage with the department, get their questions answered and share feedback about the program helps build the public’s confidence in the state government, Nicholson said. Recordings of public hearings are available, and residents can use the site to submit a question without having to sift through a directory to find the right person to ask. Keeping all widgets in a closed, government-branded environment helps build users' trust in the department and program, he said.
The Proposition 123 project page has seen more than 16,000 visits over the last several months, according to Granicus, the digital services firm partnering with DOLA. Analysis of those visits helps the department determine how to shape the site, Nicholson said. Looking at the number of visitors to different parts of the portal can help the staff better understand which sections of the program are of most interest to residents and which resources are most helpful. Those insights, then, help staff determine how best to adjust the site to encourage more engagement.
EngageDOLA has project pages for other major state housing initiatives. It initially launched last year to provide information about the state’s Ridge View Supportive Residential Community, a large campus that aims to reduce homelessness by offering wraparound services to residents. And the platform’s section for the state’s emergency mortgage assistance program features an interactive map to help users locate the nearest assistance provider.
Connecting with residents is a challenge across all departments and agencies, but Nicholson noted that EngageDOLA is a replicable project that could benefit a wide range of agencies, especially those that are managing a dozen different programs.
Editor's Note: This story was changed Nov. 8 to correct Nicholson's title.