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Achieving high performance in the HCV program: Tip #3

Tip #3: Create and assign realistic and equitable caseloads.

In Tip #2, we discussed how to choose a caseload model that will work well for your agency. The next step is to establish a realistic caseload for the model you've selected. The more activities in the caseload, the fewer cases are assigned.

For example, a housing specialist who handles the activities from initial briefing through termination (an example of a generalist model) will be able to handle fewer cases than a housing specialist who handles only annual and interim reexaminations (an example of a specialist model).

The amount and type of clerical support can also influence the size of the caseload. Many PHAs, as they attempt to reduce costs, choose to assign more duties that are clerical in nature to their clerical staff, allowing more experienced and capable staff to focus on the more difficult functional responsibilities.

It's important to note that new staff should be given a graduated caseload until they're capable of handling a full caseload. During the period of new employee ramp-up, both production and accuracy standards should be established on a graduated scale until full production and accuracy performance level standards can be achieved.

From month to month, there will always be variations in the distribution of caseloads between staff due to turnover and other factors. Some PHAs set a maximum number of cases to be handled and, if the caseload for a particular month exceeds that maximum, the cases are either redistributed or temporary assistance is provided to the caseworker.

Most staff do not prefer to have their cases assigned to another worker. Some PHAs use the buddy system effectively, or assign a "floater." In a heavy month, the buddy (or a "floater" position that can assist any caseworker) will assist with some of the duties.

For example, in a reexamination, after the regularly assigned caseworker has completed the reexamination interview and gathered the information and documents required, the reexamination is processed by another caseworker. The original caseworker then quality-controls the work done by the other caseworker. With a buddy system, these tasks can flow easily back and forth. The advantage is that the family's relationship with their caseworker is not affected.

The supervisor should ensure that caseloads for experienced staff performing the same functions are as even as possible. For instance, the supervisor can lay out the assigned reexaminations for the year to determine whether the monthly caseloads will be about the same, and can then make adjustments as necessary.

Creating a caseload and accuracy plan with specific performance standards will provide clear expectations for staff and enable the manager to measure performance. We'll talk about that tomorrow.

Next: Achieving high performance in the HCV program: Tip #4

While serving as executive director of a Minnesota housing authority, Nan McKay started one of the nation’s first Section 8 programs. The agency was subsequently honored with a HUD award as one of 13 outstanding Section 8 programs in the country.

Founder and president of Nan McKay and Associates, she has devoted the past two years to redesigning NMA’s HCV Executive Management course, as well as rewriting the HCV Executive Management Master Book with Bill Caltabiano. The tips and systems described above are thoroughly explored in both, with many forms available on a CD.