Why public housing authorities need technology for costs and customer service
By Terry McKee
Federal funding for public housing authorities (PHAs) has been declining while operating costs, demands for units and capital needs continue to accelerate. There is not widespread support for improving funding, nor is there really money available even if the political will to increase funding was present. Most PHAs will likely continue to struggle financially for the foreseeable future.
PHAs, like most governments and businesses, have a predictable routine when facing budget shortfalls. Travel, training and overtime are cut. After that, entities look at trimming expenses (often across the board cuts). Finally, PHAs look to cut employee positions. These may prudent steps to take, but technology options may provide some cost relief while improving customer service. Some technological cost saving and improved delivery ideas already implemented by PHAs and others include the following:
PHA management is complex because it involves complying with numerous federal, state and local requirements. Technology can help reduce this burden in many ways including “Management Dashboards” showing real time data whenever management needs it. Dashboards are configured to supply the information pertinent to each employee. Other ideas include:
Automating the employment application process, leave requests/tracking functions, W2 production and ACA document production. Establish direct deposit of pay checks and other employee reimbursements. Implement emailing of general correspondence instead of using USPS. Replace traditional landline phone systems with internet based VoIP systems. Replace landlines with cell phones instead of having both types of phones. Replace personal printers with multi-function copiers. Automate as many HUD and state reports as possible. Use Electronic Document Management Systems to avoid paper, printing and storage costs.
PHAs spend considerable time and resources interacting with vendors. Automate these interactions as much as possible by using email to communicate with vendors. Use email to automate the purchase order process. Implement ACH payments in place of checks and use P-cards for payments. Create vendor portals where vendors track their payments. Create Section 8 landlord portals to track availability and payments. Establish webpages to communicate information, purchasing needs, vendor registration, et cetera.
PHAs exist to serve their residents and spend considerable time and effort to do so. Technology can make this work more efficient. Create resident portals that allow residents to apply for housing, check for account information, make online payments, submit work order requests, make inquiries to management, et cetera. Webpages also assist PHAs by providing information about the properties and procedures for applying for housing. PHAs also use Integrated Voice Response (IVR) systems to allow residents telephonic access to account and other relevant information.
PHA leadership should constantly look for opportunities to better use technology, research technology options and decide which work best for their entity. PHA staff members can also supply cost saving ideas, and PHAs may choose to hire technology consultants to assess their needs and opportunities.
All technological improvements take time and effort that may seem daunting. However once implemented, the effort pays off by freeing up staff time for work on other value added tasks as we serve the needs of our clients. This is what we should be about – finding ways to better serve our residents. Technology cannot cure everything for PHAs, but it can help reduce costs and improve service delivery. So let’s use technology to improve our operations.
Terry McKee is the IT & procurement director for Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation in Tennessee. He has 28 years of public service experience including K12, county and NIGP’s Procurement Consulting team. Terry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.