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How a Better Budgeting Solution Is Helping King County Housing Authority Provide More Housing for People in Need

March 1, 2021 Tanya Goncalves  
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With the global pandemic, the risk of unemployment and homelessness has increased across North America, making the need for affordable housing a prime concern across communities. Thankfully, organizations like the King County Housing Authority (KCHA) continue to provide affordable housing for those who are at greatest risk. As a leader in affordable housing, the KCHA works diligently to ensure that they can provide housing solutions for those in need.

Based in Tukwila, Washington, KCHA owns over 135 properties across 34 different cities in the state of Washington and serves 19,000 families, including homeless families, seniors and disabled people living on fixed incomes, the working poor and families with moderate incomes. 

KCHA’s goal is to continue to effectively administer rental housing assistance, develop and manage affordable housing and address local priorities such as ending homelessness, improving educational outcomes for low-income youth and assuring that disabled and elderly households can live with dignity. KCHA’s operating budgets determines its future ability to serve low-income households, so it is essential to accurately forecast and manage its total funding and spending for the year. If its budgets are not completed on time or accurately, it could be detrimental to its goals.

Unfortunately KCHA’s inefficient budgeting processes were leading it to spend far too much time managing the templates, macros and reports and less time on the actual analysis of the proposed budgets. Here are five ways KCHA organized its budgeting to achieve its goals:

Asset 1 1. Simplified Excel Templates To a Single Source

KCHA receives funding from various sources including tenant rents, grants and Section 8 and Operating Fund subsidies from the Department of Housing & Urban Development so it is important to plan and track how this funding is spent year over year.

“One of the biggest challenges is that our budgeting is complicated and Excel was getting too difficult and time-consuming to manage. Excel just couldn’t handle the complexity,” says Wendy Teh, Financial Planning Manager at KCHA.

When you have complex allocations based on properties, units, and employees—keeping track of standard Excel sheets can become very burdensome. KCHA had over 100 separate budgeting templates built within Excel, all of which needed a great deal of time to roll up manually through marcos and left room for mistakes to occur. Budgeting in Vena allowed the team to work from a centralized database that provided a single source of truth rather than working from multiple data sources. Instead of 100 budgeting templates being organized and managed across departments, now the team could work collaboratively from this single source. They didn’t need to worry about organizing multiple templates via email anymore and now the team has accurate reporting since all of their data updates automatically as changes are made. 

Asset 22. Provided an Auditing Trail To Track Changes 

Auditing trails are key to tracking potential mistakes. Something as simple as an extra comma or number in budgeting data could have serious consequences.

“We were spending a lot of time making sure our macros and formulas were correct and the hardest part was that we had no audit trail if a change was made to one of our templates or reports,” explains Wendy. 

For example, if KCHA’s employee headcount increased for the year, the allocation would need to be adjusted. The same could be said if there was an increase in housing units purchased or developed for the year. All of these allocation changes were done manually— spreadsheet by spreadsheet by the KCHA planning team. Not only was this tedious, it left room for mistakes to occur in the reports which could lead to missed opportunities for the agency to help more low income families.

With Excel, KCHA had no way to determine when these kinds of mistakes occurred or by whom. Tracking changes in Vena is far easier since it provides a centralized database to manage all of the data for input and output reporting, giving KCHA the ability to have an auditing trail if changes are made. 

Asset 33. Consolidated Excel Templates To Save Time

Like most finance teams, KCHA was under a time constraint when the planning season came around. Their standard Excel templates had very slow loads due to the size and complexity of the files and the team would often find themselves running macros that could take hours. This challenge often left the finance team scrambling to get all budgets loaded accurately and in time for the Board of Commissioners to approve.

“Our Board of Commissioners had to approve the budget before the end of the current fiscal year so we had to have all the templates loaded and reports completed as accurately as possible in a very short timeframe.  It always felt like we were pressed for time,” explained Wendy.

Without direct board approval for the year, new acquisitions, development projects, maintenance requirements and additional hires could not be undertaken and delays would ensue. With Vena’s database, KCHA removed the need for multiple Excel spreadsheets and effectively ran complex formulas without slow macro loads. The planning team was able to get their reporting done in  much less time to share the budget with the board and get the approval needed before the new fiscal year began. This time savings also enabled the planning team to be able to spend more time providing meaningful analysis.

Asset 44. Provided a Tool That Was Easy To Use

There’s nothing worse than implementing a new tool or software that teams are hesitant to use. There’s always a learning curve with any new software, but since KCHA’s teams were already familiar with Excel, moving over to Vena was pretty easy.

“Our teams were used to seeing Excel and working with it. We wanted user acceptance of a new tool and since our teams were not just finance people, we wanted a tool that was easy to use and Vena allowed for that” says Wendy.

Vena provided an intuitive solution so that the budgets could be consolidated easily and designed in a way that everyone across the organization, regardless of role, could easily understand them. Ultimately, the solution allowed the teams to quickly collaborate and oversee budgeting while keeping track of any task progress across departments. Since different teams were working together on budgets, decisions could be made faster, empowering finance time to get the budget completed earlier.

Asset 55. Removed Any Blockers or Challenges With Agility

As with any new solution implementation, there can be unique challenges that have to be addressed. But challenges or blockers don’t come up until a team really starts using the solution and that’s when the questions roll in.

“We got to know the system a little prior to implementation, but you don’t quite understand it well enough to ask the right questions. When we did ask questions, the implementation and services team was amazing and very good at listening to exactly what we needed,” explained Wendy.

Part of the solution to ensure KCHA had all of their budgeting done effectively was to remove any kind of blockers or challenges. These could range from a simple learning curve that the team needed assistance with overcoming, or a request for the team to implement a specific consolidation on reports. At the end of the day, the goal was to ensure that KCHA was empowered to continue its mission to provide quality affordable housing to those in need.  

Focusing on the Future

With Vena, KCHA was able to develop and manage its budgets effectively on an easy-to-use platform, allowing its teams to save time and work more collaboratively. They now have an audit trail if changes occur on any of their templates and reports. All of their templates are automatically consolidated which saves the finance team a lot of valuable time during the busy planning season. They also have peace of mind knowing that the Vena team will ensure that any of their challenges are effectively resolved. Now that KCHA’s inefficient budgeting processes are a thing of the past, they can focus their efforts on their goal of attaining more affordable housing for those in need.

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