Housing inspections for NYC homeless get handheld boost

IBM, the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and Global Bay Mobile Technologies announced this week that handheld devices meant to streamline household inspections are reaping big rewards for the city. The quick and cost-efficient project also demonstrated the value of citywide contracts, city officials said.

DHS inspections are expected to increase 57 percent due to the mobile devise, and the department’s ability to transition homeless families and individuals to permanent housing has improved as well.

“We want to help people in shelter return to a life of self-sufficiency and independence as quickly as possible,” Robert V. Hess, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Homeless Services, said in a statement.

In the past, field inspectors had to complete a multi-step process, which could take several days to check the availability of apartments for homeless clients. Inspectors would have to fill out forms both in the field and the office before the data was ready to be entered in the DHS system.

DHS field inspectors now share real time data about the status of potential permanent residences with DHS staff, provider shelter staff, clients, landlords and brokers. Through the device, inspectors can answer a standardized checklist of questions, sketch a basic layout of the apartment, take a photograph or video of the space that serves as documentation of the original condition and take guided steps to comply with federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards.

“Working with IBM and Global Bay, we developed a solution that takes significant strides toward that objective,” Mr. Hess continued. “The handheld device is the result of innovative and forward thinking, and is an example of good government.”

The time needed to collect data and send it to the DHS database from the field is now less than an hour, increasing the response time to perform inspections and communicating needed repairs to landlords. More efficient inspections have led to more available apartments for clients, thus increasing placements, DHS officials indicated.

The IBM and Global Bay project was implemented in April 2008, and according to the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) Commissioner Paul J. Cosgrave, the money invested to develop the handheld devices will be recouped by November of this year through faster inspections, paper reduction and efficiencies realized through telecommuting.

“DoITT has pioneered the development of citywide contracts, enabling the City to leverage its considerable size and purchasing power to ensure significant cost savings for IT goods and services,” Cosgrave said in a statement.

Since April 2007, more than 13,500 leases have been signed by people exiting shelters and returning to permanent housing through DHS’ rental assistance program, Advantage New York.

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