August 2018, Volume 7 Issue 02
Story from the Field: Using Video Conferencing for Housing Counseling
Housing and Consumer Credit Counseling, Inc. (HCCI) in Kansas is using video conferencing technology to reach clients in remote areas, including military families. HCCI works with community partners in the Topeka area to provide the technology and space for video conferencing. The client can utilize any of the available counseling sites to meet with a housing counselor who is at the HCCI office in Topeka. This not only provides more families with housing education and counseling, it has also helped HCCI form new partnerships in the Topeka area. Partnerships have been formed with banks, county extension offices, county health departments, and public libraries to serve as host sites for video counseling.
Providing counseling in this format comes with challenges. HCCI’s Executive Director, Marilyn Stanley, noted that the agency has learned that when clients are given the option between video conferencing and in-person counseling, many choose to meet in-person, even if it means driving some distance and adjusting their work schedules to be able to meet the counselor during typical daytime office hours. She also stated that marketing funding is a key factor in ensuring the success of this type of programming. The agency has to consistently raise awareness of the video conferencing option offered in collaboration with local partners.
Offering alternative methods of counseling and education is encouraged by the Office of Housing Counseling since it can provide unique ways to bring services to clients, such as those in rural areas. The HUD Housing Counseling Handbook 7610.1 (Rev. 5) is a good place to start when it comes to ensuring that your agency is following HUD’s guidelines for alternative methods of counseling. Different models and forms work for different agencies, depending on factors such as office location, funding opportunities, and technologies available.
There are technical aspects that agencies will need to understand and work through to successfully reach clients in addition to transmitting counseling paperwork either by mail or electronically. When designing alternative methods of counseling, agencies should focus on the needs of their clients. If the approach taken does not work, agencies should not be afraid to try new things and make changes to ensure the range of services offered is efficient and effective.