When the coronavirus brought the country to a halt at the end of March 2020, Enterprise was concerned about the devastating effects it could have on communities and residents served by our affordable housing and service provider partners. Businesses were shutting their doors and infection rates were quickly rising. Residents in these communities, most of whom are low-wage earners and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), were already struggling to make ends meet and had limited access to health care.
Enterprise mobilized our nationwide team and began contacting partner organizations around the country. Partners were concerned about the health and safety of their residents and staff and were trying to do more to support their residents. They were also concerned about how a disruption in cash flow would threaten their operations and financial viability and were struggling to navigate new Covid-19 programs, policies and regulations and possible government financial relief.
With a focus on partner sustainability and growth and a priority on advancing racial equity, we developed the Emergency Action for Resident and Partner Stability (EARPS) program. Officially announced in mid-May 2020, the program provided flexible emergency grants and technical assistance aimed at mitigating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on affordable housing owners, operators, and service providers to ensure that they could continue serving low-income, BIPOC communities across the country.
“The health and economic hardships created by the pandemic hit Black and Brown communities the hardest,” said Jacqueline Waggoner, president, Solutions Division, Enterprise. “For decades, BIPOC-led community organizations have led the way in supporting and advocating for their neighborhoods. EARPS prioritized them to ensure they had the resources necessary to help their communities weather and recover from this crisis.”
Many corporations, foundations, and individuals generously donated more than $11.7 million to the EARPS program, including Ballmer Group, Capital One, Center for Disaster Philanthropy, City National Bank, Colorado Health Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, The Kendeda Fund and Wells Fargo. In all, 82 affordable housing and service providers across the country, 70% of which were BIPOC-led, brought relief to more than 100,000 residents, more than 82% of whom were people of color. Flexibility of the funding was key in helping EARPS grantees mobilize quickly. Organizations could address immediate needs and have funds for unexpected needs to come.
Our philanthropic partners responded to our urgent call for support in an incredible way,” said Waggoner. “Their generous and quick action fueled the EARPS program into being and reached communities who needed help immediately.”
In addition to grant funding, EARPS grantees had access to robust technical assistance and organizational capacity-building resources from Enterprise to support emergency response needs, as well as long-term organizational viability and sustainability. Enterprise’s tailored support offerings included navigating federal, state and local funding opportunities; assisting with financial and risk analysis; supporting resident communications; strategic planning; managing assets and portfolios; and identifying Covid-19 prevention practices and resources, among others.
Preventing Housing Insecurity
Hope Communities, an affordable housing and services provider in Denver, was among the first grantees to receive support through the EARPS program. The organization knew when the pandemic hit that many of its 546 residents would struggle. The majority of Hope’s residents – 92% of whom are BIPOC – were barely making ends meet before the pandemic on less than 50% of the area median income of a single person. Losing a job would be devastating for a family. Rents would go unpaid, putting the security of home at risk. There would be less money for groceries, and food access would become more difficult.
Funding and technical assistance through EARPS supported business continuity, providing a critical stopgap to mitigate the loss of rental income and provide for increased services to residents. Staff helped residents access resources to cover rent, utilities and other necessities. They purchased and distributed food to residents struggling with food insecurity. Hope Communities was able to help its multi-language population navigate and access emergency resources. In addition, Hope coordinated access to Covid-19 testing for residents and vaccination events.
Over the course of the year, Hope Communities saw a 20% increase in the number of residents it served through its programs. The organization distributed more than 18,600 meals through its food program. Despite the added expenses of its many new efforts, the organization kept rents flat throughout the year and operations and finances stable. Hope Communities even restarted its career fair program to help those residents who became unemployed find work.
Closing the Digital Divide
Another grantee, North End Woodward Community Coalition (NEWCC), a social justice and community development partner that operates in the North End and Highland Park neighborhoods of Detroit, was concerned with the ability of its residents to access the internet during the pandemic. Quality internet service was limited and becoming cost prohibitive, especially amid rising unemployment. When the pandemic hit, only 100 children in Highland Park had internet access at home and were able to take classes virtually. NEWCC knew it needed to provide a solution to ensure children could attend school online, seniors could attend worship services, and families could access Covid-19 information and resources.
EARPS funding helped NEWCC accelerate its Equitable Internet Initiative (EII), a program aimed at closing the digital divide by providing online access and digital technology for social and economic development. NEWCC expanded its free high-speed internet service in Highland Park, providing up to 50 resident households with WIFI transmitters, refurbished desktop computers, and training for those who needed it. The organization hired local young people to help with the setup and training, building job skills for potential future employment. The funding also enabled NEWCC to build Community Solar Charging stations in the North End to ensure residents maintain connectivity during the frequent power outages that occurred. Enterprise provided advisory support on the EII effort and even connected NEWCC with additional funding opportunities.
The internet service, which was offered free of charge, stayed steady throughout the pandemic. The system established by NEWCC has the capacity to serve 2,100 household, and the organization is planning on future expansion. They have also gained wisdom about just how wide the digital divide has been for low-income, communities of color and are eager to help close the gap.
It has been a year since EARPS was launched. Grantees have shared that the EARPS support enabled them to sustain operations, expand and develop new programs, and implement changes within their organizations to advance racial equity. For many, though, Covid-19 is still creating challenges. Nearly half of grantees have substantial debt obligations or liabilities due in the next 6 months. A majority of grantees are averaging between 10%-20% of rental income loss, with some reporting as much as a 30% loss.
As we emerge from the pandemic, recovery is going to look different for each partner, depending on how the pandemic has impacted the organization. Whether they have grown their programs or are now operating on smaller budgets, all organizations will need to reassess how they run their business and serve residents. Enterprise will continue working closely with all grantees – advocating for resources on their behalf, partnering on new initiatives and providing expertise and peer connections to build their capacity to serve residents.
Applying Lessons Learned
EARPS was created in response to a crisis, but Enterprise’s focus on advancing racial equity is a long-term commitment. In late 2020, we launched Equitable Path Forward, a $3.5 billion nationwide initiative designed to elevate and capitalize BIPOC leaders, BIPOC-led organizations, and BIPOC developers with the goal of diversifying the real estate industry and equalizing power and profit within community development. The effort, which includes a significant capital component, builds on the assessment and technical assistance strategy designed for the EARPS program.
Enterprise is launching Housing America, an eviction prevention and preservation initiative to help these same partners support tenants at risk of eviction, while still collecting rent, maintaining buildings, and keeping housing affordable in future. Like EARPS, Housing America focuses on communities of color and employs strategies that address specific local needs and circumstances.
The pandemic cast a bright light on the many vulnerabilities and inequities that exist for BIPOC communities across our nation. Enterprise will continue to focus on investing in housing and service providers who are on the ground in these communities supporting residents. By doing so, we can dismantle the systems that caused this inequity and create more equitable outcomes for everyone.
For corporations and foundations interested in partnering with Enterprise on a national or community program, please contact Tim May.