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Improving the Usability of the Anti-Eviction Letter Generator

CLIENT

City of Atlanta Office of Immigrant Affairs (OIA)

In September 2020, the CDC issued a national moratorium on evictions to contain the spread of the Coronavirus. Many eligible tenants could now be protected against eviction by sending a signed declaration of hardship to their landlord. Although a number online letter generators exist, we found that the design of these existing tools were not usable by Latinx immigrant communities.

Challenge

Enable Latinx communities to claim pandemic-related eviction protection through a user-friendly online letter generating experience.

Opportunity

Create a site (nomasdesalojos.com) that not only supports tenants in determining their eligibility, but also that meets their capacities.

Project duration

September 2020 - December 2020 (3 months)

My role

Design Researcher, Content Strategist

The rest of the team

One UX Designer, one visual designer, one Frontend Developer, and one Backend Developer

Research Approach

01. Comparative Analysis

02. Secondary User Research

01. Comparative Analysis

Before creating anything, we had to assess whether an existing tool already met the needs of the community members.

A team member and I reviewed the landscape of existing tools. We demonstrated one of the tools to the client for their input.

Above all, every existing tool we encountered required the use of an email address. According to the Office of Immigrant Affairs (OIA), a significant portion of our prospective users do not have or are uncomfortable with e-mail and its advanced functionalities (downloading, searching, forwarding, etc.). This technological barrier alone necessitated the need for the creation of a new tool.

Every existing tool we encountered required the use of an email address. This technological barrier alone necessitated the need for the creation of a new tool.

02. Secondary User Research

We faced a very tight timeline: the CDC Moratorium was set to expire at the end of the year, and we needed to release a tool for people to use well before then.

As a result, we conducted secondary research with individuals who have helped community members file CDC declaration statements, including lawyers and OIA staff members.

Our semi-structured interviews primarily consisted of questions about the capacities and mindset of community members they had gleaned from their interactions with community members. 

Overview of Research Findings

1

In general, tenants have difficulty understanding legal-ese.

Besides not speaking English well, tenants struggle to understand the intricacies and necessary actions they must take when presented with legal documents.

2

In general, tenants are struck with fear of the criminal justice system.

Anything involving the criminal justice system, courts, or police immediately immobilizes this community. We found many were scared to file with CDC because of the potential repercussions. This fear also makes them reluctant to share or report personal data.

3

In general, tenants are proficient SMS users, but don’t work well with open response questions.

The community is proficient in using SMS on their cellphones; however OIA found that texting services were not suitable to collect responses from the community due to their open response nature (for instance, instruction to respond ‘Yes’ might instead receive invalid responses such as ‘Yes I want this.’).

Design Requirements for the New Tool

As a result of our comparative analysis and user research, we wanted to tackle the following in our new tool:

SMS as the primary delivery method of letters

Using SMS, as opposed to email, would be the most familiar experience for the user to receive the CDC letter.

One streamlined process

The majority of letter generators force users to print the document to sign. Removing this barrier may increase chances users delivers a letter to their landlord.

Improve language comprehension

If users were to feel confident in declaring with their landlord, they should at the very least know what this letter says.

Website Flow

For this project, I worked to determine the content of the site

I constructed a skeleton flow of the eligibility questions organized in a flowchart to hand off to the frontend developer. I did this by studying existing CDC letter generators. Besides asking the 7 questions required by the CDC, we needed to consider how we were going to ask the questions in consideration of what we knew about the user.

This flowchart helped to communicate the flow of the website to the developer. We reviewed the flow with lawyers to ensure legal sufficiency.

Content Strategy

For any personal information that was requested, it was important to explain what that data would be used for (and in some cases, what it wouldn’t be used for). For example, when asking for the tenant’s address and unit, we should explain this information will be used in the letter so the landlord knows which rental unit is being referred.

I also determined the appropriate response choices from the perspective of the user where a simple yes/no would not be sufficient. For instance, one requirements asks if tenant has used “best effort to obtain all available government assistance for rent.” If a tenant is not eligible for government assistance (in the case they are undocumented), there should be a third answer choice.

We also did what we could to make the site reassuring. The landing page includes a photo of community leaders in their familiar red shirts. We included language that was emboldening, reminding the tenant of their due rights. The legal-ese of the original CDC requirements were simplified to be understandable, removing unnecessary legal-ese.

Lastly, when the tenant receives the text message with a link to their letter, I included the word “Welcoming Atlanta” (the more recognizable moniker for OIA) and “CDC.” The former for recognizability (as to not appear as spam) and the latter as a memorable keyword for future searching.

Testing

To evaluate the site before its launch, we conducted evaluations using a think-aloud protocol, one with a OIA staff member, and another with a group of community advocates. We observed how participants moved through the sequence of prompts and answers, taking note of any questions or points of confusion. This evaluation method was the quickest to deploy, in as well as revealing both where and why a user may face frustration. 

What we learned from Think Aloud Protocol

  • The purpose of the site was not clear. Some did not understand that the site was about the CDC Moratorium or that the end result was a declaration letter, and not a form of rental assistance. Solution: More clearly describe this on the landing page.
  • There was confusion about how to respond to prompts. Using a Yes/No response framework proved to be difficult to interpret. Solution: Use a True/False response framework.
  • There were questions surrounding what constituted “best efforts,” etc.: We needed to make certain phrases more concrete, especially due to the fears of committing perjury. Solution: Include more examples that Atlanta residents could recognize (e.g UnitedWay).

nomasdesalojos.com

Translating to "No More Evictions" in Spanish, nomasdesalojos.com is a responsive, mobile-first web form that guides people, especially those from Spanish-speaking Latinx communities, in obtaining documentation that would protect them from eviction. 

Video to help explain protections to users

See progress as you answer questions

Receive text with link to sign or download letter

Features

Reflections

This work was one several projects around anti-evictions we are doing with the Office of Immigrant Affairs. Unlike the other projects, which follow a more traditional research and ideation design process, the decision to create this particular website came directly from the Office. Because of this, there were moments in the process where we questioned whether this was the best solution for our users. In looking at one of the Office’s similar projects that generated letters regarding code enforcement, we found out that everyone who had used the site   chose NOT to send the letter to their landlords immediately (this site tracked this information). In speaking to the site’s creator, we learned that the socio-technical system is incredibly important to consider. If users were too intimidated to confront their landlords, even through a pre-made and carefully crafted letter, that’s telling. We hope to better address this in our other anti-eviction projects with the Office of Immigrant Affairs, which take a much more bottom-up design approach. 

We will continue conducting evaluation to understand how the website performs and its reception in the community now that the CDC has extended the deadline to March 31, 2021 (at the time of this writing).

Testing

Testing

Testing

Testing