Grad student, MPHA team up to lower eviction rates

UMN student Weston Merrick is trying to create a better relationship between government services and citizens seeking assistance.

Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame addresses the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority on Wednesday, Jan. 29. Warsame was selected as the next executive director and CEO for the MPHA.

Nur B. Adam

Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame addresses the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority on Wednesday, Jan. 29. Warsame was selected as the next executive director and CEO for the MPHA.

Erin Rose Baker

A University of Minnesota graduate student is working with the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority to help lower eviction rates within public housing.

Weston Merrick, a student in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, is finding solutions to create a more cohesive relationship between the government and citizens seeking services. One of his main focuses includes improving notices for residents about rent payment methods.

“It just bothered me that often government was not designed in a way that thinks about the citizens’ experience then so I, from a personal level, you know [want] to improve the outcomes of folks that also [want] to just see a government that works better and that people like interacting with more,” Merrick said.

He emphasized that low-income citizens interact with the government more frequently than others while participating in assistance programs. If these exchanges are complicated, it can discourage people from seeking government assistance, he said.

Through surveying renters, Merrick is working on creating a more user friendly letter informing residents of auto withdrawal for rent payments. The new letter was distributed to residents in half of the MPHA high-rises, and information is being collected to improve future versions. 

“This design-based process is still pretty uncommon [in] government, so we’re pretty excited to … learn more about how to bring these techniques to the public sector,” he said. 

MPHA Director of Research and Analytics Alyssa Erickson spoke of the results that have come from the partnership. 

“He brings the statistical capabilities, and we can really say this thing that we tried made the difference we expected, or it didn’t,” she said.

She emphasized that MPHA tries to maintain housing in every case possible and avoid evictions.

MPHA will continue to work on the rent payment letter for the next three months, and Merrick will analyze the results over the summer. Merrick plans to conclude his research in August, Erickson said. 

Jodi Sandfort, Merrick’s adviser and a Humphrey school professor, said in an email to the Minnesota Daily that Merrick’s research is important to the Minneapolis community.

“Weston’s research combines design and behavioral nudges, trying to help address a persistent implementation problem in housing for people with limited means. This work is part of a long tradition at the Humphrey School of engaged scholarship, doing rigorous and relevant studies to bring evidence into use,” she said in the email.