Audit clears Aspen’s affordable housing lottery for next online step
Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority hires third-party auditor for lottery system to be folded into HomeTrek, which is agency’s data and online tracking system
Almost a year since its roll out, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority’s data tracking and online system is ready for its first lottery for an ownership unit, which will be held next week.
The lottery process through APCHA’s HomeTrek system has been audited by a third party, a Broomfield-based company that has done a thorough check on the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s hunting licenses.
Part of the implementation of HomeTrek was moving APCHA’s previous and current lottery process from Microsoft Access directly onto what is known as the Salesforce platform, according to Andrew Miller, the agency’s business analyst.
While the lottery system was done and completed within the original project timeline of HomeTrek, staff felt a third-party audit was needed to verify the logic and build, he noted.
Nagesh Anupindi, founder and chief technology officer of Apoorva Corp., the third-party auditor, recently presented his findings to the APCHA board of directors.
This past September, the audit discovered some logic flaws that were then fixed by HomeTrek’s developers, Hexaware, in early October.
Later that month, APCHA staff retested the fixes prior to having Apoorva complete a second audit in early November.
“Salesforce is a very reputable platform that allows you to implement things faster and minimize regular programming errors so the only thing that we have to check for is the logic for programming errors,” Anupindi told the board during its Dec. 8 meeting.
In the current system and the one in HomeTrek, APCHA’s regulations, including individuals’ income categories and number of chances to enter a lottery based on how long they have lived here, are implemented utilizing computer software that acts in an automated and unbiased manner to run the lottery, according to Miller.
APCHA developed an information system by utilizing the Salesforce platform to input its regulations.
The company that built that system, Hexaware, went through the eligibility and qualification of the application and the policies and procedures defined in the regulations, according to Miller.
However, the lottery process, including bid submissions, goes through an algorithm developed by Hexaware.
Anupindi said he has certified the approach to APCHA’s lottery system in HomeTrek and tested 50 scenarios, all of which came out accurate.
The old school method to lotteries
APCHA’s lotteries went to a computerized system out of the public’s view decades ago when the rules changed to allow higher priority for residents based on their tenure in Pitkin County.
Prior to that, lotteries were conducted in public in the basement office of APCHA in the county annex building on Main Street.
On the day of the lottery, which was typically on a Monday, a handful of people would come and watch the balls get mixed up in a barrel and a member of the public selected the winning ball.
Each ball had a person’s name on it who qualified for a particular income category lottery and everyone who had at least a four-year work history in the county had one chance.
That evolved into five chances for a four-year work history, and for every additional four years, a person gets another chance with the cap being nine chances for residents who have lived in the county for 20 years or longer.
It became unmanageable to do lotteries manually with Ping-Pong balls with that priority system, according to Cindy Christensen, deputy director of APCHA, who conducted them beginning in the early to mid 1990s.
“I had to order 1,000 Ping-Pong balls because we pulled double the amount needed in case someone couldn’t close,” Christensen recalled. “We had a bingo machine and we had a kid pull the balls.”
The Ping-Pong ball system also was utilized via Zoom when three rental complexes came online last year in a public-private partnership between the city of Aspen and Aspen Housing Partners.
Christensen said she thinks the public should feel comfortable with the new lottery system within HomeTrek.
“I am very skeptical with these things, and I have a good confidence level that it is working the way it should,” she said. “We want to make sure that it works and it’s accurate and that’s why we’ve taken so long.”
Over the years, Christensen has been accused of manipulating lottery results or rigging them in favor of a particular individual; she emphatically denies ever doing anything like that.
“If I did, people that I know would have a place to live,” she said, adding many people have approached her asking how much it would cost to get a favorable result in the lottery. “I would always joke, ‘you would be able to afford a free-market home.’”
Advancing into the future
APCHA is planning the first HomeTrek lottery Dec. 27, which is for a studio at the Centennial complex.
APCHA board member Alycin Bektesh said during the Dec. 8 meeting when the audit was presented that she recommends there is a catchall system set up for instances where people’s names somehow don’t make it onto the list of lottery applicants.
“We should have something set up so that we know we always rerun it if something is wrong … because whoever won they find out it has to be rerun and they are going to be devastated and whoever’s name was missing from the list they are going to be devastated,” she said, adding that the computerized lottery is mysterious enough for the public to warrant mistrust. “When we hear mistrust, I think that is going to be the hang up people have when they inspect our system.”
Miller said there is a process already set up in which staff reviews the list of applicants prior to the lottery and it is posted to the website before the computerized drawing takes place.
“I have probably done 175 lotteries over the last few months and I have not had that happen; that doesn’t mean it can’t,” he said. “But that is why we brought in a third-party auditor so it’s not just APCHA saying it.”
APCHA board chair Carson Schmitz said he is confident in the auditing firm and staff’s work on the internal lottery system within HomeTrek.
“This board has placed a high priority on transparency and fairness and well done to staff,” he said during the Dec. 8 meeting. “I think this goes a long way in providing comfort to the public that it is a fair and transparent process.”
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