Last summer, Cyndy Wyrick called a meeting for her residents and asked them to be on the lookout for a survey that some of them might receive. If they did receive the survey, she said, it was very important that it not simply end up in the trash but rather, that they fill it out and send it back.
Wyrick manages the Ragan Oaks housing complex for the county's Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which is home to several families in the county's public housing program. The survey she was referring to is known as the Customer Service and Satisfaction Survey, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sends to residents of public housing programs nationwide.
Every year, HUD sends out copies of the survey to a sampling of residents, polls others by phone, examines the management practices of local housing authorities and sends out inspectors to examine the units. The surveys ask residents about the quality of their unit's maintenance, the safety of their complex and communication between housing management and residents.
After poring through all the information, HUD will assign each housing authority a grade, letting local officials know what their strongest and weakest points are.
Key to this effort is the resident satisfaction survey.
The survey, said HUD spokesperson Donna White "helps to guide the housing authorities in recognizing areas of concern."
"It is important because it's our scorecard too," said Wyrick. "It's a way for us to grade ourselves too."
"I told the residents it's to their benefit," she added. "They did tell me about some problems they were having. I didn't have anybody at all say that they wouldn't fill it out."
FAIRFAX COUNTY has received the highest possible grade from HUD for several years, said John Callaghan, an HCD spokesman.
"We're pleased," he said. "It takes a lot of folks in the cross section of the agency to make it work successfully."
The program, which has been running since 1999, will send out its latest report card next spring but will try to send all of its surveys out by the end of the year.
To make sure that the surveys are filled out, HUD asks the local authorities to spread the word among their residents.
To that end, the federal agency "asks the housing authorities to update their residential unit addresses so that the survey is actually going to a resident at a particular address," said White. "Then we ask the housing authority also to help market the survey."
In Fairfax, Department of Housing staff will hold community meetings and post flyers in the agency's main office and at all the complexes where the county's 1,064 public housing units are located. Without the help of local agencies, many residents would throw out the paper survey or hang up on the telephone surveys thinking they were being targeted by a telemarketer, said Callaghan.
"This is part of why HUD is putting some burden on the local authorities," he said.
The information blitz has been successful in previous years, said Michael Wever, who is in charge of the units in the south county area.
Residents, he said, "do note the importance by what we've told them about it."
"Generally the housing authorities fulfill their responsibility," said White.
At the same time, HUD has "been good at listening to [local] authorities," said Callaghan. "I think it's been a helpful system."