For the span of 7 weeks, our team focused on human-centered research practices in order to dive into issue of affordable housing in Pittsburgh. Our goal was to identify the breakdowns in the system and ideate potential solutions that could address these problems.

Research was presented to Mayor Peduto of Pittsburgh in April 2017. 

Housing Choice Voucher Program: Research

Spring 2017

Advised by Jenna Date

In collaboration with Nila Banarjee, Imogen Todd, and Anqi Wan


Mission statement  

"To facilitate the transition into affordable housing for young section 8 applicants."



In order to produce this collection of work, our team emphasized collaboration and iteration. We met multiple times a week to discuss initial ideas and then split to ideate before meeting again to integrate our ideas into a cohesive whole. By delegating certain tasks to specific team members, we were able to produce a large body of work in the time given, while also making sure that we maintained a central voice throughout all of the project’s parts. We strived to gather expansive, thorough data through our research in order to best inform our models, affinity diagrams, and eventually our possible solutions. In doing so, we hope to add to the ongoing discussion around affordable housing in a productive and informative manner.

Implemented methodologies included contextual inquiries, expert interviews, storyboarding, and how might we statements

What is the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

At a national level, government-subsidized housing is provided through Section 8 of the 1973 Housing act through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In Pittsburgh, residents can apply for affordable housing through the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (HACP). Numerous programs exist for individuals and families looking for affordable housing, the most common being the Housing Choice Voucher program, which is tenant-based, and the Project-Based Housing Voucher program, which is unit-based.


Stakeholder Map

A stakeholder map places the individual at the center and analyzes them in relation to the system at hand. Stakeholders being the individuals, community leaders, groups and other organisations who impact the individual throughout this experience are stated along with their impact in order to examine spheres of influence and potential breakdowns. 


To explore the possibilities of who would be using our end product, we created personas. By creating these imaginary applicants, we were able to design with a focus: any design choices we made were evaluated against what our personas (Teddy and Erica) would benefit from using. 

Journey Maps

A journey map details a user’s experience of a process including the actions they took, the phases involved, and the thoughts they experienced. It also includes the points at which they made contact with the related entity and a graph of the emotions they experienced. Considering the individual’s perspective from journey maps help identify breakdowns and target areas for improvement within an interaction.

 Journey map for ideal application process.

Journey map for ideal application process.

 Reality of application process.

Reality of application process.




Key Findings

  1. Individuals and agencies hold discordant views on the system and process.

  2. The supply of housing, information, and resources does not meet the demand in any way.

  3. The channels through which information flows are unreliable.


    Storyboards and "How Might We" Statements

    With our key findings in mind, we identified two main problem areas. We then brainstormed different “How might we...” questions that we might try to address the issues around housing that we found in our research. 


    Problem Area 1

    There is no centralized list of all affordable housing resources.  

    Problem Area 2

    People lack information during the "waiting" phase of the process. 

    Final Report