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California County Simplifies Portability for Housing Subsidies

Elimination of paper billing process cuts clerical staff time by 18 hours a week.

The Alameda County (Calif.) Housing Authority has taken labor intensive paper billing for “portability” of housing subsidies and turned it into a shorter, digitized process.

Citizens who receive subsidies from sanctioned housing authorities can take their eligibility for housing assistance with them when they move. But the process of moving or “porting” eligibility is anything but simple for local housing agencies.

First, the housing authority handling the citizen's original subsidy issues a voucher, said Jim McRoberts, IT manager of the Alameda Housing Authority. Then the authority in the citizen's new location bills the original authority for housing assistance payments and administrative fees. In Alameda's case, the Housing Authority is responsible for billing associated with portability for nearly 1,500 clients in a given month.

“Every month, we would have over a million dollars in receivables from the other housing authorities,” McRoberts said. “So that was the process, and we were grinding through this for years.”

According to McRoberts, that process consumed five to seven reams of paper a month, since portability involved lengthy paper documents. Divorces or childbirth added even more forms. And all of those documents were constantly being shipped to other housing agencies, adding to the cost.

The Alameda Housing Authority started reducing paper consumption and simplifying the portability process two years ago. The authority automated the process using its existing content management system (Hyland Software's OnBase product). That move digitized all billing associated with portability, cutting clerical staff time spent on the process by 18 hours a week, McRoberts said.

McRoberts said Alameda implemented Hyland software in 2008 for content management services.

Besides making the portability process electronic, the software allows Alameda to more easily collaborate with the neighboring Oakland Housing Authority, which also has shifted to digital portability documents. Since both authorities use digital documents, they can share portability information electronically with the assistance of a secure FTP site.

“We were helping each other on both sides,” McRoberts said.

Improved billing and workflow processes won the Alameda Housing Authority the 2013 national award of excellence from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO). 

“Nominated from the Award of Merit winners each year, these awards are chosen by national juries and represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development,” said NAHRO’s President Betsey Martens in a statement. 

Sarah Rich is a former staff writer for Government Technology.