This map shows, by ZIP code, how many Section vouchers are in use across the city.

By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

Three months after The Lens reported that Section 8 units managed by the Housing Authority of New Orleans remain primarily clustered in the poor neighborhoods the program intends to deconcentrate, HANO has introduced a new system that officials believe will help solve the problem.

The new Housing Choice Connect system, designed for registered users only, is being touted by the authority as a means of encouraging Section 8 voucher holders to settle in higher-opportunity neighborhoods by making it easier for them to find available units.

Instead of manually combing through a long list of addresses enrolled in the program, like the city’s 17,000 voucher holders have previously done, they will now be able to search by ZIP code, bedroom size, lease amount or disability access, HANO spokesman David Jackson said in a news release. Landlords also will be able to use the system to display photos of their properties and manage properties.

The online portal is intended to bring the ease of the contemporary, apartment hunt to a process that program participants have long criticized as unnecessarily difficult. For voucher-holders without computer access, HANO said it will provide kiosks in both its east and West Bank offices where participants can log in. A video tutorial for the system is available online.

“Housing Choice Connect will make it easier for our families to find homes that will work for their individual situation,” HANO Administrative Receiver David Gilmore said in the HANO release.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development appointed Gilmore in 2009 to lead the long-troubled New Orleans housing agency.  In the year and a half since taking over thereins, Gilmore has changed the way the agency provides case-management services to Section 8 tenants with the hope of making the program work better for the tenants as well as their landlords.

One landlord, Paul Gilmore, no relation to the HANO administrator, said that the changes are “a step in the right direction.”

“The communication system and response time has historically needed a lot of work,” he said. “I’m hopeful, but I imagine more change will be needed.”

Update, Feb. 8:  A spokesman for HANO has said that the new system will allow users to search by neighborhood as well as zip code.