Community design, Content strategy

No More Evictions

Redesigning the anti-eviction letter generator

In response to COVID-19, the CDC issued a national moratorium on evictions. We looked to create a site that supports non-technical tenants in signing a declaration against eviction. In partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

TEAM
Santiago Arconada
Olivia Hughes
Rhea Laroya
Ryan Winstead

MY ROLE
Research co-lead
Content Strategy

PROJECT DURATION
September - December 2020
(9 weeks)

*This project was featured in a blog post by Welcoming America.
*This project was awarded the best team Master’s project in the MS HCI program at Georgia Tech.

THE CHALLENGE

Although a number anti-eviction letter generators exist online, we found that the design of these existing tools were neither accessible nor reassuring to Latinx immigrant communities.

THE RESULT

Nomasdesalojos.com (translated to No More Evictions), a simplified mobile-first website, delivers a signed letter to the tenant without the use of email or offline printing.

THE IMPACT

Since launch in December 2020, nearly 300 text messages with a linked CDC declaration have been delivered.

1

2

3

4

Learn about CDC protections against eviction
Answer a few questions to determine eligibility
Choose whether to sign electronically or to sign by hand
Receive text message with a link to sign and download the letter
MY CONTRIBUTION

I worked as the primary content strategist for the website. I also co-managed the research, preparing and conducting interviews, in addition to attending a majority of volunteering opportunities that doubled as field observations.

The client: Welcoming Atlanta

Welcoming Atlanta provides direct service work to immigrants in Atlanta, offering personal guidance and support, running food distributions, connecting residents with legal and victims counseling, among a host of other assistance measures.

The target user

A great number of the constituents Welcoming Atlanta serves are Latinx immigrants who are Spanish-speaking and may or may not be documented.

This community has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in the form of lost household income, making them vulnerable to eviction.

A photo of me with a community navigator. Regularly volunteering helped us to build trust with Welcoming Atlanta staff.

Researching the Space

Seeing what was out there

In a comparative analysis, every existing tool we encountered required the use of an email address. Many of Welcoming Atlanta's constituents either do not use email or are uncomfortable with e-mail (downloading, searching, forwarding, etc.).

As a result of this, we decided to modify the process to better accommodate the community.

Existing tools, such as HelloLandlord depicted in the above screenshot, required an email to use. This posed as a significant technological barrier for the community.

Learning from experts

For this project, time was of the essence. The moratorium was set to lapse within a couple months (at the time) for a community who was actively experiencing eviction.

In lieu of primary research with community members, we conducted secondary research with experts. These included staff from the Office of Immigrant Affairs and housing lawyers.

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

INSIGHT from secondary research

  1. Tenants have difficulty understanding legalese. Besides having limited English proficiency, tenants struggle to understand the intricacies and necessary actions they must take when presented with legal documents.
  2. Tenants are struck with fear of the criminal justice system. Anything involving courts or police immediately immobilizes the 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. Tenants are proficient SMS users, but need foolproof response methods. The community is proficient in using SMS on their cellphones, however, OIA found that texting services were not suitable to collect open-response responses from the community (for instance, instruction to respond ‘Yes’ might instead receive invalid responses such as ‘Yes I want this.’).

Armed with this insight, we outlined the following design requirements for a 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.

Streamline the process into one workflow

Not having to print the letter and physically sign it may increase chances users successfully deliver a letter to their landlord.

Improve language to be intelligible and comforting

Legalese should be abandoned for more plain and reassuring language and include a letter translated into Spanish.

Determining the website flow

Developing a content strategy

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 handed 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 learned 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.

Knowing how anxious our user group can be in the face of authority, it was important to explain how any personal data collected (e.g. their name) would be used and how it wouldn’t be used.

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. This was intended to assuage any fears about their volunteered data being used against them.

I also worked to determine 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.

In the above screenshot, the tenant is assured that the information they provide will be used in no other manner except to populate the generated letter.

In addition, we found that answering statement with true/false was more intuitive than asking a respondent to answer Yes/No to a question.

We observed this during user testing and can only speculate why this may be. When responding to complex questions (Q: “Are you unable to pay rent due to loss of household income, extraordinary medical expenses...?” A: “Yes”), it may be unclear to what part of the question the user is responding to.

However, framing the same question as a statement and then having the respondent answer using logic operators was more clear.

(Q: “I am unable to pay rent due to AT LEAST ONE of the following: (a) loss of household income, (b) extraordinary medical expenses, (c)...” A: “One or more of these cases are true”).

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.

Seeing the community navigators in their familiar red shirts is intended to put a friendly face to the filing process.

Testing and deployment

Evaluating with proxy users

In line with our methods to conduct research using secondary sources, we tested a high-fidelity version of the website with community navigators: Spanish-speaking intermediaries from the community.

We observed how participants moved through the sequence of prompts, taking note of questions or points of confusion.

We presented the website at one of the Office’s staff meetings. We asked everyone go to the website, go through the eligibility determination process, and share ad-hoc feedback.

Findings from proxy user evaluations

  1. 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 would be a declaration letter, and not a form of rental assistance. Solution: More clearly describe this on the landing page.
  2. There was confusion about how to respond to prompts. As mentioned previously, using a Yes/No response framework proved to be difficult to interpret. Solution: Use a True/False response framework.
  3. There were questions surrounding what constituted as someone’s “best efforts” in trying to pay rent: 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).

Impact

We launched NoMasDesalojos.com in December 2020, working with the Office and AVLF to spread the word.

Number of texts sent per month

At launch, the site saw a modest usage of the website, varying between ~10 to ~30 texts (to unique phone numbers).

However, in March, we saw a huge uptick in the number of texts sent. Welcoming Atlanta had just another wave of outreach because a round of promised rental assistance fell through, leaving a lot of folks in the community at major risk of eviction.

Therefore, the use of the website is directly linked to how the Office promoted it.

Update: As August 26, 2021, the Supreme Court has overruled the CDC's authority to enact the moratorium.

Reflections

There were moments in the process where we questioned whether this tool was the best solution for our users.

For example, there is no guarantee that a tenant would ever deliver the letter to their landlord (we can only track the number of texts sent out). This scenario is highly likely due to factors we do not address, including intimidation and fear of confrontation.

Still, we attempted to validate and research how best to design a site that would best help residents access the eviction protection.

In parallel with this project, we were involved in other anti-eviction design projects, in which we hope to address these factors. I hope to post a similar case study soon!