It’s hard to believe that many Affordable Housing properties are still using paper-based filing systems. With paper filing comes a lot of unnecessary risk. Think about if your property were to experience a fire, flood or any other natural disaster that would result in the loss of documents. There would be no backup or chance of retrieving important files. It’s not just an unexpected disaster that can cause problems. Human errors occur every day and can contribute to the loss of files which is why filing cabinets and paper filing desperately need to be left behind. So why hasn’t everyone moved to electronic document storage and what is the solution?
While it sounds exciting to have technology automatically store documents for you, the thought of moving from paper to electronic can quickly turn that excitement into a state of panic. When you look at your filing cabinets and how much scanning and organizing it would take to transfer them digitally, switching may seem like a time-consuming, no-end-in-sight project. This results in analysis paralysis.
But there are options you can consider when it comes to adopting technology without having to worry about transferring everything over right away. One of the most common approaches is just starting to use technology to store newly created documents online. Don’t stress about all the documents prior to today. If you start today, then annual reporting in 2023 will be a breeze! But if you continue to wait, it will always feel like there’s no end in sight to the pain of paper-based annual reporting.
Should you want to tackle all your old files, treat it as a project you can chip away at. Consider hiring an intern or have your staff dedicate one hour each Friday to scanning and organizing files.
Document Storage Costs Should Not Be A Deterrent
One concern with switching to paperless documents is the ongoing cost of electronic document storage. Document storage plans are not always free, and when looking at the number of documents you create and file on average, that cost can add up quickly. However, when you consider the cost of the space needed to store and time needed to manage paper documents, you will most likely find that storing documents electronically is actually cheaper.
As you are looking for an electronic document storage solution, be sure to compare costs. Some software (like ResMan) comes with unlimited document storage as part of your property management platform subscription, while others charge extra based on volume. If you do go with a volume-based plan, to minimize any initial cost impact, you can simply start by uploading new files. Then, over time, old files will reach their retention limits and you’ll be done with paper documents and filing cabinets for good!
Another benefit of storing documents electronically is being able to move applications and leasing online, which makes operations much smoother for both tenants and for your team. In 2020, HUD approved the use of electronic signatures which cleared the way for Affordable properties and their residents to handle the majority of their paperwork electronically. Electronic signatures eliminate the delay associated with finding a meeting time that works for both the prospective tenant and the onsite team. They reduce the amount of traffic coming into the leasing office, allowing the site staff to focus on other tasks. They have also systematized the application process which produces electronic timestamps to secure positions on waitlists, minimizing the opportunity for discrimination or bias.
The concept of an electronic signature is sometimes confusing for teams initially because folks assume that signing a paper document and scanning it to store electronically makes it an electronic signature. This is NOT the case. Electronic signatures do not involve paper and pen. Instead, documents such as applications and leases are presented to tenants to be signed online through a phone or computer using software that meets specific security requirements.
Lean on Your Provider Software to Support Your Transition
One of the main concerns that arises around switching to online applications, leasing and electronic signatures is getting staff trained and up-to-speed so there aren’t any hiccups. Of course, you want to know your staff are doing things correctly but the idea of training staff for a new tech stack sounds like a feat.
This is where your software provider should step in. Software providers have been transferring documents into digital and working with electronic applications and payments for years within conventional, student housing and military housing. Affordable housing has just been a late adopter. However, it’s clear software providers are experienced and trustworthy. Ask your software provider for help as they know all the guidelines around electronic signatures and electronic documentation and might even have video tutorials to share more information.
Technology is Secure, Efficient, and Effective
Moving your documents, applications, leases, payments and recertifications online will make everything easier for your team and your tenants. Your staff will be well trained with support from your software provider, and should be well-equipped to handle document storage smoothly. Your applicants can apply online and tenants will be able to sign leases for your staff to review much quicker and with little to no hassle, ensuring a more streamlined process.
Additionally, annual reporting season will be a breeze as software can give specific access to auditors so they may access documents electronically, saving staff time from the digging up of documents and back-and-forth emailing. With technology, auditors can do all their tasks remotely instead of at the leasing office.
All in all, technology will enable your property to be more efficient, saving both time and money, as well as decreasing disruptions in your overall operations and annual reporting seasons. And if you’re one of the properties stuck in analysis paralysis, consider the ideas and options suggested above to ensure effective and useful adoption along the way.
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