Problem Identification:
Without a fully functional management information system, the Section 8 program cannot operate effectively and other Section 8-related recommendations for improvement cannot be successfully implemented. The computer system previously used by HABC to track applicant and participant data and to make Housing Assistance Payments (HAP payments) was not made Y2K compliant, and the Section 8 application module in HABC’s new system has not been fully developed or implemented. Since January 1, 2000, most functions have been performed manually, resulting in inefficiency, frequent errors, and inadequate controls over the payment process. The Section 8 department lacks the internal capacity to adequately represent its interests in discussions with HABC’s Information Technology (IT) department, and to take the steps that are necessary to install, test, load, and bring up the new applications.

Recommended Actions:
Implement a functional Section 8 management information system. This will necessitate:- Contracting for the services of a full-time Program Analyst to assist the Section 8 department in installing, testing, loading, and ‘bringing up’ the new computer system;- Appointing a ‘Key Users’ Committee of Section 8 staff members to work with the Program Analyst for successful implementation of eligibility, voucher issuance, inspections, rent reasonableness, HAP payment, re-certification, program monitoring, HUD reporting and quality control functions;

– Negotiating a new forbearance agreement with HUD on Multifamily Tenant Characteristics System (MTCS) reporting to preclude fee sanctions. Incorporate monthly and cumulative reporting goals into agreement; and

– Adding graphic interface capability to computer system to facilitate monitoring of spatial concentration/de-concentration of Section 8 participants.

Organizational, Service Improvement

Estimated Annual Impact:
While the immediate financial impact cannot be estimated, implementation of a function system would limit further expenditures on ineffective system implementations, reduce temporary staff expenses, and help avoid HUD imposition of financial sanctions for non-reporting. Additionally, a functional system would provide the automated data systems needed to support program activities and satisfy recordkeeping and external reporting requirements.

Estimated Implementation Costs:
$84,000 for a system analyst for six months ($60,000 salary plus 35% benefits) and purchase of the MapInfo/Maryland MapMarker software package($3,500).

Barriers to Implementation:

Function/Operational Area:
HABC/Section 8

Projected Implementation:
180 days

Next Steps:
Develop and issue Request for Qualifications to local management consulting/information technology firms.

The failure of HABC’s computer system has been especially hard on the Section 8 program, which is primarily a paper program. For any reasonable level of efficiency to be achieved, the functions that must be performed on a single integrated system include:

– Applications
– Waiting list management
– Generating form letters
– Eligibility
– Voucher tracking
– HQS inspections
– Leasing
– MTCS reporting
– Check issuance
– Annual re-certifications and re-inspections
– Terminations
– Program reporting

The Section 8 subcommittee discussed the notion of privatizing the operation of the Section 8 program at some length. One of the more attractive aspects of privatization was certainly the opportunity to have a contractor install and implement a standard Section 8 computer application. There are several commercially available packages on the market. While arguably none are perfect, they do perform routine program functions, generate necessary letters and forms, submit required data to HUD, and provide standard and ad hoc internal reports. These packages could easily be brought up in a period of three to six months. Further, because they are not developed internally, an outside contractor bears the responsibility for updating these software programs when Federal requirements change.

To privatize the program at this time, or to allow contractors to bring in their own software, would require that the HABC abandon the system currently in development, and absorb the costs of software acquisition and modifications expended to date. The subcommittee was not willing to make that recommendation at this time. However, recognizing the high staffing costs of continued manual operation of the Section 8 program, the absence of effective program controls during periods of manual operation, and the likelihood that HUD will impose financial sanctions on the program if an acceptable level of reporting is not reached, HABC should:

– establish tight time frames for full implementation of the new system;
– make the necessary resources, including a full time, dedicated program analyst who would work with staff and consultants to implement the new system available to the Section 8 department; and
– reevaluate the privatization and/or standard software acquisition options if time frames cannot be met.