What can we learn from current or previous efforts to link evidence-based outcomes to policy or program development (in the housing sector or elsewhere)?
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At NeighborWorks, we have seen some great successes where evidence-based outcomes have maintained support for programs and have altered on-the-ground practices. The best example is with the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling program (NFMC), a federal program administered by NeighborWorks America through which foreclosure counseling has been provided to over 1.3 million people. The Urban Institute did a three-year evaluation of NFMC, looking at 180,000 NFMC homeowners and matched a comparison set of non-NFMC homeowners using servicer-reported data. The study found that homeowners who received NFMC counseling were nearly twice as likely to obtain a mortgage modification and at least 67% more likely to remain current on their mortgage nine months after receiving one. On average, these counseled homeowners received mortgage modifications that lowered their payments by $176 more per month than homeowners who didn’t work with NFMC counselors – a savings of close to $2,100 a year. These findings have helped maintain critical support for the program—currently in its sixth round.
We have also seen how a smaller study has created greater awareness of the value added by resident services by showing that they significantly improved the financial performance of rental properties. In this 2008 study, Community Housing Partners of Christiansburg, VA, a NeighborWorks organization and a multi-state nonprofit housing provider, found that operating costs related to vacancy loss, bad debt and legal expenses were significantly lower at properties with resident services than at those without resident services. In all—projects with resident services saved $236 per unit each year. And the savings were even greater at properties that included eviction prevention counseling.
Success Measures, a participatory outcome evaluation resource based at NeighborWorks, has been another important means for us to use evidence based- outcomes to influence policy and practice. Designed by practitioners, Success Measures’ methods and tools have been refined over a decade to assist community-based organizations, and their supporters, to demonstrate impacts in systematic, credible and practical ways. One current example is the Financial Capability Demonstration Project, a collaboration between Citi Foundation and NeighborWorks that aims to significantly expand understanding of the effectiveness of financial education and coaching efforts nationwide. Using new Success Measures tools that track changes in the financial status, behavior, attitudes and resilience of clients served by nonprofits, 31 participating organizations are conducting evaluations of how the financial knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of the consumers they are serving are changing over time. The initial baseline data gathered confirms that the cohort is serving more than 2,000 clients with diverse backgrounds and a range of financial capabilities. Most clients (67%) have unsecured debt and only 40% have savings. Although the comparative follow-up data on the impacts of financial coaching on these individual’s lives will not be collected until later this year, organizations report that having this more detailed baseline information about clients enables them to tailor and improve their programs and coaching strategies. Over time, it is our hope that this effort will help to further inform and shape financial capability practice and policies.
Eileen Fitzgerald is Chief Executive Officer of NeighborWorks America.
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