Laura Sowards-Carmichael is a doting mom of two, a union steward and proud public employee. A Housing Grant Analyst 2 at the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, Laura is humble about her public service; but the fact that she has saved Ohio taxpayers millions of dollars, in addition to the long-term impact of her job, is anything but unassuming.
The OHFA, where Laura has worked for 21 years, facilitates the development, rehabilitation and financing of low- to moderate-income housing. The agency, formerly a part of Development until 2005, helps first-time home buyers finance homes and works to fund nonprofit developers who build and maintain quality and affordable rental housing.
Laura crunched numbers in Finance for years, but when her job was abolished, she found herself an analyst in OHFA’s Planning, Preservation and Development. Her office works with developers, or “Partners,” to fund developments and rehab through grants and gap (interim) loans. The partners who receive the loans are supposed to send in a repayment form, audited financial statements and any funds due to OHFA annually.
“What I discovered when I came on board was that those gap loan funds were just trickling in over the years; that’s money that could be going back into our communities to fund more projects for those in need,” she said.
As a result, Laura was given the task of reaching out to partners and recouping more of the funds. She was also tasked with developing a process and procedure to track and gather more of the funds. And that’s just what she did.
“There’s a lot to the process that would probably make the average person’s eyes glaze over, but it’s making a real impact,” she said. Laura’s process is now paperless. She updated forms and made them available electronically. She cleaned up the database of contacts and now sends annual reminder notices, mostly through email. The process requires mandatory electronic payments from customers, and an investment in new software has removed a lot of human error.
As a result of her efforts and process improvement, she has been able to recoup approximately $10.6 million over 4 years. This, compared to the $5 million the agency had been able to amass in the 16 years previous, is an extraordinary accomplishment and proof of public service innovation. This is a double savings in a quarter of the time.
“I’m proud to say that the process is streamlined and green and that those funds are flowing in consistently now and going toward new projects in our communities. I’m proud of my work and proud to make a difference in the lives of Ohioans, even if they don’t know it,” said Laura.