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The New York Timesreported 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.

The Conversation (0)

Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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