Welcome to another edition of our blog series, A Day in the Life, which will introduce you to HUD employees and highlight the important work they do.
When I arrive for work at HUD in Seattle I’m pretty focused, rarely fretting about who or what is going to walk through my door. I’m pretty sure about the work I have to do, the conversations I’ll have, the meetings I’ll attend, the emails I’ll receive, and the fires I’ll have to put out. Ninety to ninety-five percent of my day is predictable. Surprises aren’t part of my job description. Not so for Diane Schooley and Rowena Jose.
Working at HUD Seattle’s front desk they’re the first people with whom callers will speak and who visitors will see when they come to HUD looking for answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. Like me, they may have plans for their work day. They don’t always have the chance to complete them.
“On an average day we probably get between 25 and 35 telephone calls,” says Rowena. An Army veteran, she came to HUD nearly three years ago after working for a high-tech supply firm. “Buying computer hardware is a lot easier than helping people,” she notes, especially in the middle of an economic downturn. Even now, she adds, call volume picks up at the end of the month, right before a three-day weekend.
“The calls are about everything and anything,” Diane adds. When she came to HUD from the State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Security to serve as the Regional Administrator’s confidential secretary, she explains, “I didn’t know what HUD was. I didn’t know what a housing authority did. I didn’t know why so many people were desperate for a housing voucher. I did know what a mortgage was, but that’s only because I had one.”
Both remembered the first telephone call they answered. A tenant facing eviction called demanding that Diane tell her “what I can do to stop it.” Rowena heard from an at-risk homeowner who wanted to know if the brand-new Emergency Homeowner Loan Program “can stop a foreclosure sale.” They both realized then they had lots to learn.
Fortunately, they had some help. During their first few weeks, staff from Field Policy and Management shadowed them, helping them find the information they needed, backing them up when phones began to ring off the hook, helping-out if the inquiries got too technical.
“In the Internet age,” observes Deputy Regional Administrator Donna Batch, their supervisor, “all sorts of information is at our fingertips, just a few clicks away. But not for everybody. There are still a lot of people who don’t have computers and many of them find it difficult to navigate their way from a problem to the information that will help them solve it.”
When Diane and Rowena started with HUD they weren’t ashamed to admit they didn’t know something. Nor were they shy about saying, “let me get back to you.” Then they’d do some research on HUD’s Web site, talk to a colleague or a program area and get enough information to be helpful without being dangerous. And they keep their promises to get back to people.
Seven or eight thousand calls from all 50 states and a few foreign countries later, there’s probably not a question about HUD they can’t find the answer to. “If HUD ever gives a everything-you-know about HUD test to our employees,” Donna says, “I’d be pretty sure Diane and Rowena would rank in the top of the class. They’re racing across the HUD learning curve.”
Better still, Rowena and Diane say they’ve never seen their work as drudgery. Nor have they ever awakened to the thought of not being able to take another day of customer service. “When I am done at day’s end, I’m done,” Rowena notes, “I feel pretty good but also know I’ll try to do even better for our customers tomorrow.”
And every morning they’re ready to go at it again. “I love this job,” says Diane. “We don’t try to solve the problems. We just try to keep people calm, connect them with the people or the programs that can help them and to give them some hope that all will be well again.” Just about then, adds Rowena, “another phone will start ringing.”