The Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority's (APCHA) efforts to modernize its information systems will have to wait a little longer. A third attempt to hire a company to design a digital database for the housing authority begins today.
In 2017, Aspen and Pitkin County signed off on a $1.4 million investment for a new housing information management system, or HIMS. Right now housing applications and lottery bids are all still all submitted on paper, and other data is cataloged on various spreadsheets. APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky said currently his office can’t answer questions about how many people the system is housing, how many of them are in the workforce, or what percent of the workforce live in APCHA units.
“Those are basic fundamental questions that we have no reliable answer to,” Kosdrosky said.
APCHA put out a request for proposals last fall, but only received one bid on the project. That bid was nearly $1 million over the allocated budget. That was the second call out for a database system; Kosdrosky said the first iteration was too ambitious.
The RFP that opens today as been pared back and accounts for a phasing of different components of the project.
The enterprise software would have a 24/7 user portal, allowing the public to submit housing applications and search inventory based on their qualifications. There would also be a way to submit grievances and report compliance violations anonymously.
On the backend, APCHA staff would use the program for data entry and could flag certain residents who are known to be consistently late on rent payments or who are repeat violators of housing requirements.
“HIMS will help APCHA be more accountable to the community because it will provide key performance indicators and data that demonstrate the value of the program,” Kosdrosky said. “ … There are so many people, in the program in particular, who are asking for more accountability, this allows us to hold the program more accountable.”
The RFP underlines this goal stating, “The housing information management system (HIMS) is not only intended to transform the way APCHA conducts its day-to-day business but is meant to improve the quality and certainty of information that market participants and policy makers must have to make more informed decisions.”
Ultimately, Kosdrosky hopes the data management system will help inform the politicians and government officials who set policy for the housing authority.
“Today we do not know with any certainty, with any reliability, what percent of the workforce we house,” said Kosdrosky. “There are people that guess at it but guessing is not enough, especially when it comes to making public policy.”
In the meantime, the RFP points out that APCHA has already begun to digitize the data that they do have on hand and clean it up so it is presented in a consistent way and can easily migrate to the new software.
“In advance of this RFP, APCHA has begun taking steps to better organize and utilize its information on an interim basis. To that end, a limited scope, interim database has been developed. Its primary focus is on better organizing the inventory and attributes of APCHA properties and their occupants.”
Kosdrosky said he is not sure why data collection is so antiquated in the department. But as the subsidised housing stock has grown to 3,000 units and 6,500 beds, it has only become more complicated to track all the information down.
“It was very clear in the intergovernmental agreement from the 1980s, they say (APCHA) should have a database, a system. Nobody seemed to take that to heart,” said Kosdrosky.
The hope is that the completed software can be a model for other resort towns that have similarly outdated data systems. It could even be sold to other housing authorities in the future as a way to recoup some of the initial costs.
“We are being as bold and innovative today in doing this as they were when starting the program,” said Kosdrosky. “Our goal is to again lead the way.”
Though last fall’s RFP resulted in one bid that was $1 million over budget, Kosdrosky thinks the updated framework will draw in smaller firms. He says the market for enterprise software is so hot right now, that governments can’t compete on the free market for the bigger, better known companies. But he said even if the authority does have to stretch its budget a bit this round, he believes they will be even greater payoff.
“I look at it this way, one million dollars to manage and oversee three billion dollars of deed restricted property, that to me is a relatively modest investment when you do the math,” Kosdrosky said.
Editor's note: A reference to the number of beds in the affordable housing system in the 1980s was incorrect and has been removed from this story.