People applying for housing assistance from Montgomery County will no longer need to file paper applications starting Aug. 24 because they will be able to apply online.
A new Web site from the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County will allow applicants to submit a single form to apply to multiple housing programs. The system will also reopen housing program waitlists that have been closed since 2008.
It will be the first all-electronic application system in the country, said HOC Executive Director Stacy Spann. “We’re trying to change how people think about housing people.”
The original application was available only on paper and required applicants to submit various forms for each individual housing program.
“You want an onion for your recipe,” Spann explained. “You want someone to tell you, ‘Here are all the onions — let’s match you up with the one you like the most.’ ”
The change does not make any additional housing available, but officials hope it will make assigning and matching housing more efficient and make turnover more timely. The new platform will also be accessible at computer kiosks at county libraries and at all HOC offices.
The agency had long reconsidered revamping the paper application system, Spann said, but the new system took three years and about $150,000 to build. Administrators hope it will also streamline the back-end process of contacting housing applicants once they’ve been matched with a program.
With the paper system, employees had to enter the data by hand into a database of people seeking assistance.
And in the time between filing applications and getting an offer of housing assistance, many applicants also move, change contact information or find alternative solutions, he said. As a result, HOC “has to contact six times the number of customers to fill one slot.”
Gina Smith, HOC’s chief operating officer, said the agency tested the platform with a handful of social-services organizations that work with similar groups.
“I expected to get an avalanche of pushback,” she said, adding that some people had been concerned that the online system might be unfriendly to older applicants. “But they were not at all stunned at the idea we were going electronic,” Smith said.
The agency plans to roll out the form in more languages, in addition to English and Spanish, and has uploaded YouTube video tutorials complete with soothing elevator music and audio instructions.
County and federal officials praised the transition Monday morning when they announced the system, which has already accepted more than 4,000 forms from disabled and elderly applicants who were granted access to the platform late last month.
“It’s a big deal,” said Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda). “This doesn’t create [housing], but the paperwork previously involved . . . the hassle factor was significant.”
During the early rollout, Joseph Udit, 73, who lives with his wife in an HOC property in Silver Spring, applied online for a housing voucher, which is accepted across the country. Because his daughter is disabled and his grandson hopes to move to California, he applied for a housing voucher when the new system launched “to be closer” to his immediate family.
“I have been absolutely lucky to be offered this,” said Udit, who has diabetes and has a pacemaker.