HUD Kiosk provides On-Screen housing help: Minneapolis, MN, USA

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 18 May 1999 17:15:04 -0700 (PDT)


Are the Kiosks described below a worthwhile use of HUD funds?

http://www2.startribune.com/stOnLine/cgi-bin/article?thisStory=75752644
FWD  Minneapolis Star Tribune - Saturday, May 15, 1999

     HUD ''ANSWER MACHINE'' PROVIDES ON-SCREEN HOUSING HELP

     Neal Gendler / Star Tribune

A talking, interactive kiosk has opened in downtown Minneapolis to help
consumers buy homes, rent housing and solve problems.

It's a project developed by the Minnesota staff of the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The "HUD Next Door Kiosk," which resembles an ATM machine without buttons
or card and cash slots, has been running on a trial basis for two months.
It's on the first level of the Minneapolis Public Service Center, 250 S.
4th St. The Minneapolis kiosk, which officials informally called the "HUD
Answer Machine," is part of a kiosk project that's been launched in 44 U.S.
cities.

At a touch of its color screen, the answer machine starts talking and
presents a narrator and up to four on-screen "buttons" to touch for more
information. Many of the displays have a button marked print. Touching it
will bring an 8-by-11-inch black-and-white printout of the display from an
almost-invisible slot below the screen.

By pressing the buttons, consumers can learn about HUD programs in the Twin
Cities area; obtain a map of HUD housing project locations; find agencies
providing home-purchase help; obtain assistance finding affordable rental
housing; locate job training or economic-development assistance, or find a
shelter for the homeless.

Potential home buyers can get printed pages listing housing counseling
agencies, HUD-approved lenders and HUD properties for sale. Consumers can
use an on-screen calculator to enter annual income and monthly non-housing
expense figures and learn an approximate maximum purchase price they can
afford and the monthly mortgage payments.

"People say you can get all this information on the Internet, but the
people to whom I need to get information do not necessarily have access to
the Internet," said Patricia Mack, HUD Minnesota public affairs officer.
(HUD's Web site is <http://www.hud.gov>.) "This is very nonthreatening
because you touch the screen. It talks to you," Mack said. She predicted
that people unaccustomed to computers should find it easy to use the kiosk.

It brought HUD recognition as a 1999 Electronic Government Pioneer from
E-Gov, a national group promoting technology innovation in government.

Mack said she checked on the kiosk frequently during the two-month trial
because of reports that one in another city often malfunctioned. This one
did not, she said.

"I pretended I was looking for a place to live in greater Minnesota," she
said. "I touched the buttons and it gave me the name of an assisted rental
housing project in that community." She said she didn't choose a place she
knew she'd find an answer. She chose a community, specified a two-bedroom
size, waited for an answer, and got one.

"The other thing that is consumer useful is that there's really good
information on buying a house and keeping it -- foreclosure prevention,"
she said. The screen also provides information on how to file a
housing-discrimination complaint with HUD.

The Public Service Center, diagonally northwest across 4th St. from
Minneapolis City Hall, is intended to be a temporary location, Mack said.

"The plan is to move the kiosk to the Hennepin County Government Center
public-service level when renovations there are completed," she said. HUD
plans to provide two more of the $16,000 kiosks, one at an undetermined
site in Ramsey County and one at the Mall of America.

END FORWARD

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