I worked in a team of 4 alongside a community partner to create design solutions for their specific problem.
The partner was SOUP. A non-profit based out of East Palo Alto, California.
East Palo Alto, is a neighborhood seeing economic hardship in comparison to its neighbors.
With housing and cost of living becoming increasingly unaffordable SOUP aims to help existing homeowners build backyard homes to rent out to those in need and sustain themselves through the income.
They are however a new non-profit and are lacking in marketing and informative materials.
Brainstorming and conceptualizing the idea and the execution.
Information Architecture and Content Strategy
Scoping through the data and writing the content, visualizing the flow of information, and executing the same.
Communication and collaboration
Served as a point of contact for the partner and ensuring transparency in communication channels.
Strategizing the presentation flow to speak about the project in an engaging and concise manner.
Creating materials helping SOUP communicate their objectives and help homeowners make informed decisions.
In the Bay Area, there is a serious problem of affordable housing, where even those making six figures struggle.
But what about those who are not even making that?
For instance in East Palo Alto with an Average Median Income under $65,000
As opposed to San Mateo County $95,000
The average rent (1 bedroom) $2300
The disparity in incomes makes this problem very real in East Palo Alto.
Let’s tell you the story of Penelope, a homeowner who lived all her life in East Palo Alto.
With rising costs in the Bay Area, she has some serious concerns.
On the other side of town lived Sandra, a teacher in the school district.
Before Covid, she used to commute to work daily and always wanted to live near her workplace, but at her salary, that’s out of the question.
In an ideal scenario, SOUP can help homeowners like Penelope as well as renters like Sandra.
How? By providing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU).
Put simply, backyard homes!
These units intend to give households additional incomes through the rent earned and serve as an affordable housing option to those in need.
Once the unit is built, it can be leased out at an 80% market rate, making it a win-win, for homeowners like Penelope, who can get a supplemental income, and help renters like Sandra find an affordable space to live.
Being a non-profit, SOUP offers free project management services to low-income homeowners to build an ADU.
After Visiting East palo alto and conducting a research study involving over 12 interviews and 75 survey participants, our research concludes that homeowners like Penelope have the following genuine concerns, when it comes to building a backyard home.
Learnings and insights
Let's have a look at the average homeowner, Penelope.
Her journey to build an ADU is somewhat like this..
As she browses online, she finds that the information she gets from multiple sources very overwhelming.
However, a friend who works with local non-profit EPACANDO tells her about SOUP, and she is hopeful when she hears about it for the first time.
But after going through the website and details, she is not sure if the service is feasible at her income level.
Since SOUP is relatively new in the area, she doesn’t know how well Soup is connected with East Palo Alto.
She also has other concerns regarding finding a reliable contractor, which leaves her to question if she can afford to build a backyard home.
So how might homeowners like Penelope make more informed decisions to going ahead with building an ADU in their backyard?
Re-designing the website is more than first thought, easy peasy solution.
It would only make better sense when we observe the interaction from Penelope's perspective.
We proposed and redesigned the website with more meaningful content to keep audiences informed and engaged,
and a financial calculator that gives homeowners an idea of their cost and financial commitment, upfront.
On the homepage, she gets a sense of what to expect; she can see what the unit looks like. There's an immediate understanding of what the website is about.
Even though most visitors may be familiar with the term of backyard homes the exact term ADU may be lesser-known. Hence it is important to give clear information
Since financing is the most important criteria for most people, we introduced the concept of the calculator upfront. Penelope can click here if she wishes or scroll below.
Here we wish to convey that SOUP is accessible to diverse homeowners.
Since Penelope aims to rent the unit she may be able to relate to at least to one of these stories.
Here we aim to provide an overview of SOUP's services. Even if a homeowner wants to glance through this section, they should leave with an idea of how SOUP can help.
Below the overview is the detailed process.
This will give her a better idea of what it takes to build and lease a unit.
The last section is one of Fincancial Incentive. Since SOUP is a non profit it is subject to certain grants. Here's where that information would reside. The CTA will take her to the calculator.
This demo shows how the calculator will function on Soup’s website. By typing your home address, you’ll get the essential information about your lot.
Next, it tells you what ADU projects the homeowner is eligible for, with individual unit specifications.
The calculator can generate an estimate of ADU project expenses. All the breakdown costs are listed as well. The same report can be downloaded and saved as a PDF.
Overall, the property evaluation calculator aims to tell homeowners upfront about their financial commitment.
Aftermath and sustenence
After a detailed discussion with SOUP, Penelope finally got started with building a brand new ADU.
As the work begins she began to think of leasing out.
Upon further inquiries she discovered that the rent seemed reasonable.
Soon after, she contacted Penelope, and Penelope showed Sandra around the ADU.
Things got moving from there onward, and within a few months, Sandra moved into Penelope’s brand new unit.
It’s this level of semlessness in the process what we aspire to achieve. Through the websites, financial calculator, and printed materials such as the flyer, we hope to make housing solutions more accessible.
We hope that our project and solutions can be hopeful to homeowners like Penelope, renters like Sandra, and more communities like East Palo Alto.
You’re probably wondering, what happened to Sandra,
A few weeks ago, she was in the neighborhood, and she saw this flyer at the EPACANDO office and thought that the building is pretty and the deal sounds really good
Challenges and next steps
At each phase of the project, we were confronted with new challenges.
In the time we spent working together, we experienced the end to end process of getting a product underway.
Finding homeowners willing to talk to us
Visiting ready units in East Palo Alto
User testing on Figma
Finding the right solution
Validating solution with client and other stakeholders
Most of us didn't come with a real estate background, and all of us were international students.
To build empathy with the demographic, user research was essential, so quantitative and qualitative
research helped us tremendously.
We also had to check ourselves from getting over tempted by promising glamorous solutions. However, we stuck to more rational solutions suitable for new age non-profit
Overall the project was successful when presented to the client and we are happy that we could wade out the challenges and deliver a compelling product.