Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) - Economic Displacement Relocation Assistance (EDRA) Program

Making it easier for low-income renters to apply for housing benefits

The Problem

Over 50% of Seattle’s population consists of renters affected by recent record-high rent increases. The Seattle City Council passed a new ordinance, the Economic Displacement Relocation Assistance (EDRA) Program, designed to provide financial assistance to low-income renters to help them relocate to affordable housing. The agency in charge of rental housing regulations for safe housing, Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI), was called upon by the City to design a new digital and paper benefit application to support renters in receiving the help they needed.

With the task at hand, SDCI and our team worked to lower access barriers to this new program by focusing on equity, accessibility, and ease of use. Collaboratively, we provided expert Human-Centered Design (HCD) services to design a usable, useful, and accessible application process.

The Solution

With tight deadlines and complex legislation, it was vital that our team create a working solution for both Seattle’s renters and for SDCI staff, who needed to receive clean applications that they could process efficiently.

A series of interviews and focus groups with low-income renters and community advocates that support the most vulnerable populations (undocumented, non-English speaking, etc.) led to a deep understanding of their diverse experiences, needs, and barriers when accessing support.

We engaged in a series of collaborative design sessions with the SDCI team, creating prototypes of our application materials that low-income renters gave feedback on. With each round of usability testing, we gained confidence that our content and designs were headed for success – simple and effective. In one of our final UX sessions, a participant said, “That wasn’t too bad. That was very easy. Arguably one of the easiest things I’ve ever had to do.”

SDCI successfully launched the new benefit application. The iterative process empowered the team to move quickly by co-generating creative solutions and aligning on key decisions using data.

The Impact

By using the HCD approach, SDCI heard diverse, often less represented voices during the design process. This provided a wealth of unexpected insights that helped team members deeply empathize with the low-income renters and led to more compassionate and equitable designs.

As the applications rolled in, SDCI found that staff received fewer phone calls for help navigating the process and more accurate, complete applications. This meant they could spend more of their limited time processing applications instead of helping confused renters or following up on missing materials. Applicants also now receive their eligibility decisions sooner, and therefore their money, faster.


“I didn’t have any issues, was really cut and dry, easy to navigate and access.”

— Participant from third iterative research study

“[The application] didn’t ask anything out of the ordinary or anything that has nothing to do with application.... This was simple.”

— Participant from third iterative research study

“I would be happy to help [a client] with this if it would help them find housing. It is not a burden, not complicated; it looks easy. Now that I understand how to continue it wouldn’t be that hard. It is a good process.”

— A community partner from the third iterative research study

“The customer research was important in helping us fill in the gaps early, when the landscape wasn’t well understood.”

— SDCI staff member

“Getting lots of feedback early on in the process led to a better outcome and an application that was easier to use - both for applicants and SDCI staff processing applications.”

— SDCI staff member

“Involving community partners in our research also helped our team build important relationships with community partners - now they can better help us help some of the City’s most vulnerable tenants get the services they need and deserve.”

— SDCI staff member


Service Blue Printing

  1. Coach SDCI staff in conducting collaborative workshops to identify renter touch points and develop a service blueprint

UX Research

  1. Interviews and focus groups
  2. Find barriers to accessing support
  3. Lead 3 cycles of iterative testing with target audiences
  4. Conduct accessibility audit
  5. Conduct UX audit of all program materials for consistency
  6. Multiple rounds of iterative usability testing

UX Design

  1. Create design principles
  2. Visualize screen flow
  3. Low and high-fidelity prototypes of the application
  4. Design final paper application

Content Strategy

  1. Draft online and paper application content
  2. Content audit
  3. Advise on content and content structure for website

Backlog and Exit Survey

  1. Design survey to measure people’s experience with the program over time
  2. Compile list of prioritized UX issues

Facts & Figures

  1. 13 interviews and 1 focus group with low-income renters and community advocates informed our initial discovery phase
  2. 78% of participants said the second version of the application was simple and faster to fill out than expected
  3. 24 renters and 5 community partners tested the application process during 3 rounds of UX testing
  4. 19 renters we worked with identified as black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC)

SDCI EDRA Project Artifacts