Oakland Rent Adjustment Program
Creating openness and access to the City of Oakland Rent Adjustment Program.
UX Designer / Researcher / Strategist
City of Oakland Communications
City of Oakland RAP Staff
Gaby Brink – Creative Director
Lisa Baird – Lead Strategist
Supriya Kalidas – Designer
Jason Durgin – Designer
The City of Oakland has a unique Rent Adjustment Program that addresses concerns between owners and tenants and enforces the Rent Adjustment Ordinance.
"The purpose of this program is to encourage investments in Oakland’s residential housing market that foster affordable, fair housing for a diverse population of renters. We believe community begins with where you live, and we’re committed to fostering healthy relationships between property owners and renters."
–– The Rent Adjustment Program website
It was a system that heavily relied on paper petitions, photocopied evidence, and folders. Tomorrow Partners was consulted to create a clear, user-friendly website about the Rent Adjustment Program and an online petition process.
As some of our team members were Oakland residents, it was easy to dive into the material and empathically connect with the various stakeholders. We interviewed landlords, tenants, and staff members of the Rent Adjustment Program to gain a better understanding of the process. As with many government procedures, there was a lot to learn about the nuances of rent, housing, and petitions. Oakland's high percentage of immigrant tenants and landlords meant that this convoluted process would be even more difficult for them.
The City of Oakland is also growing very quickly, and the Rent Adjustment Program was struggling to stay on top of their paper-based petition system. Their website was hidden within the larger City of Oakland website and difficult to navigate. There was a lot of frustration around information and clarity, but also an incredible drive for positive change.
Aside from the obvious need for clarity of information, there were a few unique insights that came from the research.
Neither landlords or tenants want to fight.
In the analysis of the material, we found language and positioning that made it difficult to imagine going to the Rent Adjustment Program with anything but a battle. Yet, in our conversations with landlords and tenants we discovered that nobody wanted a fight and that everyone just wanted a fair outcome. They wanted to know that there was an objective third party that could listen fully to both sides and give a fair result.
Potentially losing your home is a big deal, and this is a scary thing.
Without coddling or heavy-handed emotional rhetoric we wanted the website to provide the reassurance of professional support. Our strategy included important guidelines about voice and tone that also aligned with the City of Oakland's broader communication re-haul.
Prototype + Design
We mapped out the current case workflow and designed a parallel digital workflow. It was clear that paper shouldn't go away any time soon because various audiences trusted paper, and some users were not digitally literate. The online petition would open a digital case file and start the rest of the case workflow on the backend.
The structure of the site was driven by a desire for transparency between landlords and tenants. Both sides would be able to know how the other party might respond, or what the other party might be going through during the different steps of the petition process. We intentionally designed the site architecture to be issue-centric instead of having separate pages for landlords and tenants as most analogous websites did.
We tested early InVision prototypes with Oakland residents for both content and usability. The design of the site followed the City's new design guidelines so that it would be visually cohesive when the new City of Oakland site was completed. We also conducted training with RAP staff members so that they could update the site and keep the information fresh.