Customer experience in action 

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Customer experience in action 

Building a foundation for housing equity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development 

At the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Synergy Innovation Lab, A’ndrea Jones and a team of innovation fellows are working with the agency’s Office of Housing Counseling and drawing on professional development from the Partnership for Public Service to drive HUD efforts to increase homeownership for underrepresented homeowners.  

The core of these efforts is an innovation challenge, “Reimagining the HBCU student pathway to homeownership,” that designed a multipart pilot aimed at financial and homeownership empowerment for students from historically Black colleges and universities. The challenge reinforces HUD’s mission to develop inclusive communities and quality, affordable housing for all, and is a model for engaging new customers in a way that builds trust in government and federal services.    

“The iLab is enabling HBCU students to represent the next generation of homeowners and addressing the homeownership gap,” said David Berenbaum, deputy assistant secretary for housing counseling at HUD.  

A’ndrea Jones, Founder of the HUD Synergy Innovation Lab

Empowering employees for better public service  

Jones drew on the Partnership’s Gov21 Innovation Program to “enable collective ownership across HUD of new programs aimed at housing equity.” 

Her team collaborated with OHC, which helps lead HUD’s outreach to HBCUs, to increase the impact of housing counseling in underserved communities. Feedback from the OHC also shaped the lab’s innovation challenge, and the iLab’s 13 innovation fellows, who work in offices across HUD, conducted an extensive brainstorm to develop interview questions for students at HBCUs—a key element of the lab’s efforts to gather customer data. 

David Berenbaum, Deputy assistant secretary for housing counseling at HUD

Innovating for a better customer experience 

The Partnership’s Customer Experience Roundtable, which convenes leaders from agencies that provide high-impact public services to share ideas, also shaped Jones’ approach. 

Open dialogue and transparency permeated the convening, highlighted by her conversations with Barbara Morton, who won a 2022 Service to America Medal® for her work to transform the Department of Veterans Affairs into a federal CX leader. 

Morton’s “real talk” about the VA’s CX journey encouraged Jones to stay positive as she worked to embed customer experience principles across HUD. As HUD leadership questioned whether staff had the bandwidth and funds to take on new CX work, Morton visited the agency to share her experiences and vouch for the impact of investing in CX. 

“We became more open to infusing CX at HUD because our leadership heard how it was done somewhere else,” Jones said. 

Jones also uses an Innovation Roundtable at the iLab—modeled on the Partnership’s CX Roundtable—to “curate a space” for HUD innovation fellows to hear what is working and what is not working from customers, thereby enabling the design of new prototypes that meet customers where they are and increase impact.    

“The Partnership convened a group of people who provided me with the tools and strategies to develop HUD’s customer experience and innovation capabilities within the iLab,” she said.  

Getting results 

Today, HUD leaders have agreed to pilot all the components of the prototype for the HBCU innovation challenge, with HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge emphasizing the unique opportunity it provides to close the gap between Black and white homeownership by starting to “teach people when they are younger about how the [homeownership] process works.”  

With support from the OHC and HUD’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer, the iLab 

will offer agency employees courses on financial literacy, homeownership and housing counseling, enabling them to become HBCU housing ambassadors; create courses for college credit and new digital resources on homeownership for HBCU students; and conduct outreach on HBCU campuses.  

Other initiatives include creating an HBCU homeownership community of practice and ensuring HBCU ChatGPT users receive accurate information on the home-buying process. 

Some of these plans require congressional budget approval, others require further development and some have already been initiated, like the ambassador program. Jones believes all six initiatives will be fully piloted in a year or so.  

“We are turbocharging the goal of increasing minority homeownership through a customer experience lens. Our HUD Innovation Lab graduates are leading change in a way they could have never imagined,” she said.  

In addition to partnering with the iLab, OHC worked with fellows from the Partnership’s Excellence in Government Fellows Program to revise the office’s funding strategies for a multimillion dollar grant program that connects HBCUs and minority-serving institutions with housing counseling agencies to increase access to housing services and financial education.  

According to Berenbaum, the fellows analyzed data from the first year of grants and recommended OHC target different underserved populations, creating “a model for how OHC will move forward with future rounds of funding” to reach more diverse housing consumers.  

In all this work, Jones sees a growing recognition that CX is “something we should be doing in all areas of HUD.” She credits her collaboration with the Partnership for helping to drive this mindset.  

“CX professionals need to talk to one another and deliver services together,” she said. “The Partnership provides the space and resources for us to work better on behalf of the American people.”  

To learn more, visit the iLab’s website or contact

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