March 30, 2020

Looking out for our Partners in the Community

At Enterprise Community Partners, our work is dedicated to helping families access and create pathways to opportunity through quality, safe, stable, and affordable homes. As all levels of government across the nation act swiftly and urgently to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic, our mission has never felt more critical. It is clear that in order to help stem the tide of COVID-19, we need to ensure that everyone in our community has access to safe, stable, quality and affordable homes today and after the crisis is over.

Our partners in the affordable housing community, who we consider some of the frontline workers in this time of crisis, need our help and support now more than ever. In order to understand what types of relief we need to advocate for locally and nationally, we have been listening to our partners in the Pacific Northwest market and elevating these to our national team, who have been working around the clock on behalf of what they’re hearing on the ground. We’ve created a brief summary of what we’ve heard from survey responses that we’ve collected, as well as a survey of the landscape of information that is coming forth.

Current Challenges

  1. Residents Unable to Afford Rent – Attributed to a wide number of factors, including reduced hours, loss of job, loss of wages, inability to work due to caregiving, illness, etc.
  2. Affordable Housing Providers Struggle to Remain Financially Afloat – Closely linked to the issue of tenants unable to pay rents, many providers are facing looming financial challenges and are thinking critically about how and when to tap into reserves to maintain operations. Major sources of fundraising have also been impacted.
  3. Ensuring the Needs of Vulnerable Populations are Met – Many residents in affordable housing developments are more vulnerable than the general public, such as the elderly, and may require additional assistance such as medical care, meal delivery, counseling, translation, in addition to managing safe conditions for persons who test positive for COVID-19.
  4. Shortages of Skilled and Knowledgeable Staff to Continue, Maintain and Increase Services As Needed – This ranges widely from behavioral and mental health support staff, janitorial staff, lease up staff, among others that are unable to work or are being re-assigned to work on the most immediate and pressing issues.
  5. Managing the Immediate to Long-Term Needs of an Increasingly Remote Workforce – Some are facing increased technology costs to facilitate effective remote working environments for their employees.
  6. Construction Slow-Downs Could Curb Progress on Affordable Housing Development – While prioritizing the health and safety of workers, some construction projects are finding it challenging to find contractors and sub-contractors to continue work, slowing progress on our affordable housing goals.
  7. Reductions in Affordable Housing Development and Operating Funds – Several sources of affordable housing funding are dependent on tools such as sales taxes retention and increases, and linkage, permitting, and recording fees, all of which may slow down during and after the crisis response.

PNW Partners Rising to the Challenge

  1. Securing and Raising Critically Needed Funds – Government, philanthropy, businesses and other community stakeholders have come together to create and contribute to rapid response funds.
  2. Deferring Collections on Rent/Mortgage – Including debt service payments, rents/mortgages, and cancelling fees.
  3. Supporting Organizational Sustainability – Authorizing flexible use of funds—such as operating reserves—across building portfolios, refinancing, and other creative financing solutions to sustain organizations that manage affordable housing properties.
  4. Quickly Adding Shelter Capacity – Local governments are finding solutions to add critically needed shelter beds across the region through building and site acquisition, and creative repurposing of other public facilities.
  5. Enacting Tenant Protections to Keep People Housed – Many are now implementing a moratorium on evictions during the crisis response and preventing critical utility shut-offs due to nonpayment.

Questions that Remain to be Addressed as We Weather the Storm

  1. How will issues of back-rent and past-due bills be handled?
  2. How will we ensure compliance from landlords in response to emergency enacted eviction moratoria and hold those accountable that choose to ignore these temporary emergency orders?
  3. How quickly can federal aid be distributed?
  4. How can we continue to center racial equity in our emergency decision making?
  5. This emergency has laid bare the inequities in our society. Will we act more decisively to ensure everyone has a safe, healthy home once the COVID-19 crisis has passed?

We are all being met with a challenge that is stretching our work beyond our own known capacities. At Enterprise, we recognize that we have a role to play in supporting the work that is happening on the ground and in advocating for our community’s needs at the federal level. Where appropriate we seek to support our local partners in these critical conversations, highlight opportunities for federal-level advocacy, leverage our relationships, share best practices from across the country, and aid in the long-term organizational sustainability of our partners that are critical to the affordable housing movement.

This is just the beginning and we are here with you. If you have more to share on the challenges that you are facing and the potential solutions that will help you continue your important work, please follow this survey link and let us know. You can also reach out to Ana Bonilla, abonilla@enterprisecommunity.org locally for more.

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