Aspen’s employee housing tracking system a work in progress
Kinks within HomeTrek website being work out as more user navigate system
It’s been six months of fits and starts for users of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority’s online system designed for those who live in one of the agency’s 3,000 deed restricted units, or are seeking to.
Since the rollout of HomeTrek, over 4,650 people have logged into the system, whether it was to qualify for a rental unit, bid on an ownership unit or find out about capital improvements on their condo.
Listings for units that are for sale began April 16. There have been 115 separate bids for six listings, according to Andrew Miller, business analyst for APCHA.
The data tracking and online system requires each person who lives in a unit, or bids on one, to upload their financial information, including lists of assets and debts, tax returns, W-2s and bank statements.
The qualification packet interface can prove daunting for first-time users, as navigating the site can be cumbersome.
Miller said most of the questions coming into the APCHA HomeTrek help desk have been about getting around on the website.
“Most of it has been navigation on the site,” he said, “and that’s where we are continuously making updates.”
One upgrade was an automatic save function, because some users, for example, had uploaded a dozen documents and needed to get a separate employment verification form from the APCHA website, but HomeTrek did not save the previous uploads.
“We are working on the initial page saying, ‘here’s the general document upload list that is required,’” Miller said. “Gather those before starting the application just in case the digital system or experience breaks.”
Another kink to be worked out is accepting payment from users for bid and qualification fees.
One user, who asked to remain anonymous, said her application last week would not let her navigate to make a payment, so she is unsure the status of her account.
She also said she’s frustrated that the interface doesn’t allow her to jump to different sections.
“I got to the final stage of uploading documents and forgot about one of my retirement accounts, so I had to go back page by page instead of jumping right to it,” she said. “In the document upload stage there a bunch of sections to upload your files, I had gathered everything but could not figure out what employment verification was. … There is no explanation in the interface, … so I had to call a friend to find out it’s a document your boss needs to sign.”
She also had difficulty knowing whether her application was actually submitted after uploading 15 pieces of collateral.
Miller said the developer of HomeTrek is working on a function to allow users to go to a separate tab for the employment verification piece.
“That’s in one of our sandbox environments and just getting finished by internal users, and in our next deployment by our developer, they will push that,” he said.
Bethany Spitz, compliance manager for APCHA, said as calls come into the help desk, staff is updating the “frequently asked questions” pages and tutorials on how to navigate and use the site.
“I think we need to keep the help desk around for a while and make sure we continue to keep strong FAQs out there because it’s not a system everyone started using on day one and are now experts at, so it’s a slow process,” she said. “It’s a brand new system and one that we will definitely continue to make improvements on and change as needed.”
Spitz added that HomeTrek is a powerful system with so much opportunity for data to live in one place.
The $1.4 million platform launched Jan. 1 after a year in development by India-based IT consultant, Hexaware.
It’s a census for APCHA’s aging and growing inventory. Prior to HomeTrek’s rollout, APCHA did not have a full account of all of its deed-restricted properties in the city and county because of its paper-based system.
Funded by real estate and sales taxes and developer fees, APCHA is one of the first workforce housing agencies in the country and the first in Colorado when it was established in the late 1970s.
APCHA now controls billions of dollars worth of real estate and, without a system like HomeTrek, it did not have a robust way to track who owns what and who is living where.
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Former Aspen Skiing Co. executive and Aspen city councilman Derek Johnson has been released from state prison and is currently residing at a halfway house.