For the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, the future begins today. The team that will be creating HomeTrek, a one-stop-shop online portal, will meet for the first time to begin digitizing APCHA’s databases and processes.
APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky said he has been working to bring APCHA’s technology systems up to date since he took his position four years ago.
“This is transformative if done right,” Kosdrosky said. “I always say, this is the first and most important step to sustaining this program in the long-term and actually improving it.”
Joining dedicated staff from APCHA, the city of Aspen and Pitkin County are systems consultants from Hexaware, a communications team from Slate Communications, and an owner’s representative from the firm Antero. The $650,463 project will take nearly the entire year and about one-third of APCHA staff’s time.
APCHA has a new governing body as of 2019 that includes elected officials and can set policy at a quicker pace than previous boards. Even so, Kosdrosky said, handling the data comes before some of the big-picture initiatives the board members have their eyes on.
“We are not going to be able to take on everything this year. This is game changing, and this is the priority,” Kosdrosky said.
The new database will cover all business functions of the housing office. The public-facing abilities include a secure login portal and profile through which users can browse available units, apply for housing, or submit paperwork to qualify for the program.
“HomeTrek will give you a better understanding of the variety of APCHA housing options and their specific deed requirements,” a report from Slate Communications states.
By computerizing things such as where affordable housing units are located, which income category they serve, square footage and bedrooms, and homeowner association provisions, individuals will, for the first time, get a birds-eye view of the housing options that are available to them. With automated notices that leases are coming up for renewal, tenants might even get a heads up when something that fits their needs becomes available.
Keeping track of the piecemeal 3,600-unit inventory as it has evolved over four decades has mostly been a matter of tracking down the person with the most institutional knowledge, or finding the right piece of paper.
“We just didn't have good data. Either it was nonexistent, it was outdated or it was wrong in a lot of cases,” Kosdrosky said.
As the system is built, the public will be invited to give feedback on the user experience of the new login portal and navigating for information within the system. Hexawear is building the back end with the anticipation that there will be 20,000-30,000 logins a year.
On top of bringing the application process for housing into cyberspace, the new HomeTrek system is almost meant to revolutionize the internal workflow of the housing office.
Using a matrix drawn up by staff logging each individual step in any given required task, the new software will help with the compliance process from complaint to resolution, automatically post available units to the web, allow private property owners to post available housing and accept secure payments for rent and application fees.
The lottery process by which the lucky winner obtains subsidized housing also will be automated through the digital system, something Kosdrosky hopes relays transparency and builds trust in APCHA.
“So that people feel more secure that things are above board and transparent and there is no hidden agenda,” Kosdrosky said. “The more transparency and the more clarity, the better for everybody. This is too important.”
Along those lines, APCHA for the first time will be able to pull reports that help inform policy making for the agency. Slate Communications wrote in its report that without being able to tell leaders exactly who is living in the inventory, or the conditions or locations of APCHA’s holdings, it’s hard to create a vision for the future.
“A lack of data and information results in uninformed policy and business decisions,” the report states. “APCHA cannot efficiently or effectively manage the housing program without real-time information and statistics... . It is next to impossible to demonstrate the housing program’s value to the community without key performance indicators and data.”
The contract with Hexawear allows for $28,072 of travel and lodging expenses as the consultants periodically check the progress of the data migration throughout the year. The designated staff from APCHA, the city and the county will be working in focused bursts, concentrating on one business function at a time, and the communications firm will be working to keep the public updated and collect feedback.
“We want to demonstrate value back to the taxpayers and the community through this automation project,” Kosdrosky said. “Every stakeholder is part of the team, everybody is at the table, everybody has a say in it.”