Housing agency eases filing

The Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency this year implemented a Web-based service so that its network of 400 independent, nonprofit management firms could file their yearly audited financial statements online, eliminating a time-consuming, error-laden and costly service.

The success of Web-FACTS, which stands for Financial Audit Compliance Tracking System, may spawn even more such Internet applications by the quasi-state agency, which oversees operations of more than 60,000 subsidized apartments for low- to moderate-income residents as well as provides loans for first-time homeowners.

"Last year we probably spent about 70 percent of our time on [tech] support. [This year] we probably got a handful, I'd say maybe 5 percent support, if that," said Jim McCaughey, the agency's information systems manager. "It was a great pleasure to have that happen for the first time deploying your first Web-based product, which looked extremely professional."

In previous years, the housing authority (www.masshousing.com) would develop business rules for the auditing program, have the program burned onto diskettes by an outside contractor, and have them mailed to the network of management firms, usually by late January.

Sometimes the management companies and their auditors wouldn't receive the diskettes, or some of them would arrive corrupted. After wading through numerous technology problems, the firms mailed back the diskettes and paper copies.

"The rule was they had to have everything submitted by March 31. That never happened. I'd say about 40 percent of them would submit on time and then the rest of them would stagger all the way through until the end of May, if not June," said McCaughey, adding that the program itself was cumbersome and inflexible for those filling out the statements.

Mass Housing began developing the new application, which is hosted by a third-party application service provider, with Woburn, Mass.-based Greystone Solutions Inc.

Greystone helped "mentor" the agency's developers "on this new technology as well as let them do some of the development," McCaughey said. Greystone also helped Mass Housing research the pros and cons of Web hosting companies and offered expert advice on other issues, he said.

Management agencies, which were all required to have Internet access, were given passwords to log on to the easy-to-use and secure Web-FACTS, officially unveiled Jan. 17. With this new tool, about 80 percent of the firms filed by the March 31 deadline and "100 percent of the data was nice and clean," McCaughey said. Although no cost/benefit analysis was done, he said the agency saved probably thousands of dollars in administrative costs.

Web-FACTS' success may trigger the agency to create several more online services, such as offering the ability to file yearly budgets or apply for mortgage loans. The agency is also exploring transitioning to a Microsoft Corp's .Net platform.

"What we're trying to do is open up Mass Housing so we can reduce our internal costs. That's always on the back of our minds," McCaughey said. "But it's also to let our customers know that we have other products. We're not just a multifamily and homeownership [organization]; we have other programs that might be beneficial to somebody. So we want to let people know we're becoming more proactive than reactive."

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