COVID-19: What we are LEARNING

Hope is working diligently to help residents who have lost their jobs or had a reduction in wages as a result of the virus to secure emergency rent funds. Many residents have service industry jobs that have closed down, and do not pay workers who cannot be on the job. Since Hope Communities does not receive direct government subsidies for housing, and 80% of residents do not have vouchers for subsidized housing, their rent payments don’t fluctuate with changes in wages. In normal times, this can be beneficial because as people improve job skills and get increased wages, they can pay off bills or save for a home. In times like this, though, those same residents are significantly impaired — with decreased income and no offsetting decrease in rent payments, as would be the case at most affordable housing properties.

At the onset of the crisis in March, Hope joined forces with community partners East Colfax Community Collaborative and Rocky Mountain Communities to formally announce a commitment to stop evictions, not charge late fees, and not expect higher payments for anyone whose income was affected by the virus.

We knew unemployment was going to be significant in our communities, as most of our residents and clients work on the front lines and in industries that were going to be significantly impacted by the virus and stay-at-home measures. We also knew those clients do not have enough savings to cover expenses without a consistent income. Knowing that rent would be suspended but that the debt for rent will not go away, we went to work helping residents secure emergency rent funds.

CONTINUED FROM NEWSLETTER >> April was not a terrible month for rent payments, as most residents already had rent money to pay off April’s bill before they lost their jobs or wages. We expect May to be much worse and have forecast that without intervention, Hope could lose upwards of $500,000 in payments during the first several months of the pandemic.

To that end, with the onset of the pandemic, we started to search for emergency funds to help residents pay rent so they would not accumulate debt. Our Resource Navigation teams are poised to assist with emergency rent applications, we’ve translated information about enhanced emergency programs into the languages spoken throughout our communities, and we have had navigators reaching out personally to residents about these programs in their native languages.

While emergency rent and utility programs have been bolstered, there is a catch. Only tenants with a 20% required match for TRUA (Temporary Rent and Utility Assistance) programs can access those funds. Part of what Hope endeavors to do is use emergency grant money to help residents have the 20% match for rent support for the next few months. Our teams have also worked very hard to help people apply for unemployment, so they don’t need emergency rent funds at all.

Hopefully, with the strong emphasis on helping residents access emergency funds, the properties will be able to maintain smooth operations through the course of the pandemic. Program support is another thing entirely, as our programs are supported solely through grants and fundraising dollars. With many foundations diverting funds to support health-related costs, we are concerned that general operating funds will diminish to the point where programs are deeply affected.

Staffing and direct service costs for programs and services have escalated with the onset of the virus, and we know the need will remain strong for months to come. Although we were already thinly stretched and leveraging all community resources available to us, we have begun to see foundations pivoting on their strategic plans. We are working with foundations and funders who have supported Hope Communities programs in the past, so they understand the scope and need that the pandemic is bringing forward in terms of resource navigation, food scarcity, employment support services, and access to health and mental care services for adults and children throughout our communities.