Anacortes Housing Authority needed a makeover to their old html website. There were dozens of downloadable forms, mostly pdfs that were comprised of off-kilter scans, that would need to be filled out, signed and mailed in. It was difficult to tell what needed to be done to fully apply, plus many forms were out of date and repetitive.
I have a lot of experience with Gravity Forms and figured I could convert those pdfs to online forms in a hot minute (or hour). The only issue was finding a way to add a legally binding signature. DocuSign was contacted, but they were fuzzy on the price. Without a price to go on, this government agency couldn’t commit.
I did a bit of research and came up with approveme.com, which promised integration between Gravity Forms and a legally binding signature, for one low price and no monthly fees, no matter how many signatures were processed.
This looked good to the housing authority, so they went ahead and purchased it at their introductory price, which was, at the time, pretty ridiculously low (it’s still a fairly good deal).
After getting it on the site and attempting to integrate with the Gravity Forms, my heart sank just a little when I came to the conclusion that their singing forms had to be created line by line in an html environment to reflect every piece that is entered into the Gravity Form, with code that indicates the form ID number and the field ID number. Their interface does allow for a drop-down where you can select the form, and the line, and it will add the code. This was a bit of a headache, as its very tedious and repetitive. After editing a form’s contents (and this happened quite a bit), the E-signature form would also have to be edited. At one point I printed out the forms and the code, so I could mark off the line by line references and make sure that everything on each Gravity form was added to the E-signature form. It was too much data to store just in my memory!
The client needs the applicant to upload images as well. With the default file upload in Gravity Forms, and applying that code into the E-signature form, the output of the signed form would only supply a link to that file, rather than displaying in the signed document. To overcome this, I had to do an image upload which created a new post. (This also duplicates the image upload, which can create more of a burden on the server.) I also had to allow very large file uploads so that the form submission wouldn’t fail, especially on mobile devices. The issue with doing it this way is that the image won’t display unless the html code is parsed in the E-signature form. So instead of neat html style code, the symbols to display the image need to be in raw form:
(Haley at approveme was very helpful in figuring out this step.)
This worked well until a point when all this code kept getting parsed; was able to fix it but am unable to recall the exact cause.. (I looked through the dozens of support emails, but eventually I believe I had to fix in a text editor and add the code back in). I even went to the point of turning off the ‘visual’ editor for the user who can edit these files (unfortunately, just one ‘owner’ has access to edit… but maybe that’s a good thing. Of course I was the owner up to the point where we published the site.).
Another issue was printing out the responses that were Yes or No questions – it won’t print the label (the question), only the answer. So I had to add the question to ‘yes or no’ or ‘multiple choice’ into the signature form itself, or into the form “value” and have it print the value (and not the label). Adding it to the signature form has the disadvantage in that it will print out on the signing form even if conditional logic renders the question not applicable, taking up more space on the page that inevitably gets printed (they we’re not a paper-free society, yet!). It also automatically adds “:” before an answer, so if a colon is in your form, it will print double colons.
The site launched in August of 2021. In nearly a year, they’ve processed 100s of signed applications online. There are always those applicants who are going to struggle with technology, so we’ve left the ability to request printed documents that they can mail in.
Anacortes may be unique in that they have a fair amount of available housing, with more being built, and don’t need to use a lottery system but rather, can vet their applicants to fill available spaces.
Are you a housing authority or other organization that would like a more automated process to handle applications? I can help! Please get in touch.
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