Arial view of a neighborhood in Milwaukee, WI
What was the challenge?
The Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF), overseen by the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury), provides grantees with funds to distribute to eligible homeowners who are facing financial hardship associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Treasury encouraged grantees to use targeted outreach to maximize program accessibility, especially among low-income and socially disadvantaged homeowners. The Idaho Housing and Finance Association (IHFA) wanted to understand the impact of postcards on HAF application rates amongst homeowners who were at risk of foreclosure. Print mailer outreach is costly and labor-intensive, and the extent to which this type of outreach is effective at increasing applications in this context is unknown.
What was the program change?
HAF was newly introduced in Idaho in June 2022, and many homeowners may not have known about the existence of the program. Evidence from our past randomized evaluations suggests that targeted outreach via mail can have mixed results in increasing the uptake of social programs (see here for a letter that increased takeup of SSI benefits, and here for a letter that did not increase flu vaccine uptake). IHFA designed a postcard with information on program eligibility and how to submit an application printed on the front and back.
How did the evaluation work?
We designed and implemented a randomized evaluation to measure the impact of mailing that postcard on applications to IHFA’s HAF program, targeting a sample of 1,651 homeowners in pre-foreclosure or foreclosure.
What was the impact?
We find strong evidence that the postcards did not increase the number of applications to Idaho’s HAF. The findings saved IHFA approximately $25,000, which was redirected to fund English and Spanish language billboards targeting eligible homeowners in hard-to-reach rural areas with above average shares of Hispanic/Latino populations. Future research could evaluate the impact of other forms of outreach aimed to encourage HAF applications amongst at-risk homeowners.
Figure 1. Percentage of households that initiated HAF applications
View the pdf abstract
Verify the upload date of our analysis plan on GitHub.