The New York Times reported last week that a computer programming error at the New York City Housing Authority that began in September 2008 and lasted until May 2009 was responsible for a miscalculation in rents for hundreds of welfare families whose sole income was public assistance. Instead of calculating rent based upon the number of people receiving public assistance, the program calculated rents based on the number of people in a household, resulting in the families being charged an average $183 higher rent than what was supposed to be charged.
As a result, numerous welfare families were threatened by New York City's public housing agency with eviction (some were taken to Housing Court multiple times) for failing to pay the incorrectly calculated rents.
The Housing Authority said that no one had actually been evicted, and that it was providing rent credits to those adversely affected. It did not know how many families were affected, but did admit 1,973 families met the rent miscalculation criteria.
The Housing Authority also did not say how the programming error occurred, or why it took so long to discover the error.
At the very least it looks like the software testing procedures need improvement.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.