Building Tools to Help Seniors Save on Real Estate Taxes 

AARP Foundation

The AARP Foundation serves vulnerable people 50 and older by creating and advancing effective solutions that help them secure the essentials. The organization’s Property Tax-Aide (PTA) resource helps low-income older adults stay in their homes and communities by providing access to property tax refund and credit programs.

 

 

AARP Property Tax Tools

The Challenge

At the core of PTA’s offering is a suite of custom-designed digital fintech tools that older adults can use to navigate program applications.  In 2019, PTA worked with a development partner to build and launch tools to assist thousands of older adults apply for real estate tax abatement.  There are two components to the Property Tax-Aide tools:

  1. The “Eligibility Screener” helps users  determine their eligibility for selected property tax relief programs in their respective state.
  2. The “Form Completion Tool” assists users in completing and submitting a property tax relief application form based on their state.  

As the program continued to grow, the PTA team had concerns about the quality and scalability of these digital tools.. In 2021, they engaged with The Gnar Company to assess the current state.  Our audit of the existing codebase revealed a number of concerns including a lack of integrated testing, security vulnerabilities, lack of continuous integration and continuous deployment, inconsistent frontend components, UX/UI complexity, and lack of user interfaces that were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. Further complicating the situation, these tools were not built in a scalable way, making it increasingly difficult and time-consuming to make necessary changes. 

The Solution

Based on the codebase audit and prior experience with similar digital tools, it became clear that re-platforming the existing Property Tax-Aide application would be more efficient than modifying the existing codebase.   With that approach, we developed a three-phase plan to maintain the existing tools as functional, while rebuilding better, more scalable versions. 

Phase 1 – Discovery and Stabilize Tools:  In this initial 4-week phase, we took  ownership of the codebase and tools from the previous development firm.  Our engineering team immediately set to work on stabilizing the current tools so they could be used securely, while gathering requirements to rebuild them (with additional tool features) over time.      

Phase 2 - Maintain and Rebuild Existing Tools: Utilizing the requirements defined in Phase 1, we rebuilt the existing digital tools with best practices and security in mind, allowing us to efficiently add new tools and features.  In total, 14 tools were rebuilt with React JavaScript for the front end and Ruby on Rails for the backend and business logic.   

Phase 3 - Develop New Tool Features and Improvements: In addition to maintaining and rebuilding the existing tools we also added new features including address autocomplete, user accounts, identity management, a Yellowfin BI software implementation, and a more intuitive UX/UI that reduced the number of required clicks by 40%, on average.  

The Results

Since rebuilding the tax-aide digital tools, The Gnar Company has maintained and updated them  for each subsequent tax year,as well as building and launching tools for additional states. Since Gnar    started working with the AARP Foundation, these digital tools have helped over 28,000 people apply for and, if eligible, obtain over $5.6M in property tax relief.   Learn more about The Gnar's React and Ruby on Rails application development capabilities here.

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