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Waterbury improves public housing transparency through digitization

 The Authority’s Comptroller, Jennifer Yager, navigated the packed room, pointing out which boxes of files were set for shredding in August.
Abigail Brone
Connecticut Public
Waterbury Housing Authority Comptroller, Jennifer Yager, navigates boxes of files set for shredding in August.“Everything going digitalized and putting everything out there, I think it's more transparent to who we serve," she said.

More than one million Waterbury public and low-income housing records were converted to digital files over the last year, with thousands more in the digitization process.

The industrial garage of the Waterbury Housing Authority is stacked floor to ceiling with dozens of cardboard boxes filled with recently-digitized housing records.

The Authority’s Comptroller, Jennifer Yager, navigated the packed room, pointing out which boxes of files were set for shredding in August.

“This is a lot, and you see we have cabinets over here, we’ve got some here,” Yager said, pointing out the various cabinets, some empty and some filled. “Everything going digitalized and putting everything out there, I think it's more transparent to who we serve. And then also our auditors, like I said, they have access to everything that we have,” Yager said.

The process began in February 2022 and the bulk of the conversions were completed by last August.

“When I got to Waterbury housing authority in December of 2020, and realized that they were not scanning anything in and everything was paper, I started in the finance department,” Yager said. “For the public housing tenant records, everything was digitized. And then for our section eight client records, we went back three years.”

The ongoing project will convert more than 10,000 files including Section 8 and affordable housing, and business applications including vendor contracts.

The digitization was funded with a small portion of the funds Waterbury Housing Authority receives through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

“We were trying to go paperless anyway with all of our clients and our tenants, and that was just one more way that we could have everything in one centralized place,” Yager said.

The move also ensured contactless interactions and transactions between public housing residents and caseworkers.

The Waterbury Housing Authority initially decided to pursue digitization after learning of the state’s efforts to digitize records through Manchester-based company Scan-Optics, Yager said.

Waterbury’s digitization was conducted by Scan-Optics using an affordable web-based management solution designed specifically for housing authorities, called PHA-Web.

Gov. Ned Lamont visited the company last year, sparking the trend in digitization, Scan-Optics Chief Executive Officer Jeff Mitchell said.

The company recently completed a conversion of 12 million state records spread across 19 state agencies.

“All of their HR files were converted, classified and archived into their document management system,” Mitchell said. “We've been dealing with the state of Connecticut for many, many years. We process every application for eligibility for the Department of Social Services on a daily basis.”

Currently, the company is in the midst of conversion for several other housing authorities across Connecticut, Mitchell said.

“We have a secure chain of custody where we arrive, we pick up the boxes, we barcode them, we transfer them into our secure facility where they're checked in,” Mitchell said.

Often, Scan-Optics returns files to the customer, along with a digitized version, within hours of the documents’ collection.

With the majority of the Waterbury Housing Authority’s files now digital, the agency will next tackle the human resources documents.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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