April 7, 2020

When Home Becomes the Hub:  A Resource for Housing Providers During the Covid-19 Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting everyone around the world, and putting many of us in roles we never anticipated playing. In the context of stay-at-home orders and the closure of so many institutions we all rely on, housing providers have been put into a critically important, albeit challenging, position. 

Enterprise has been listening to affordable housing owners, operators and service coordinators to learn about what they are doing to keep residents safe from contracting or spreading the novel coronavirus and to ensure residents are connected to critical local and national resources, and social outlets to maintain their economic and mental health. 

Our scan lifted up many helpful practices, most of which may appear quite obvious—but it is important not to underestimate how radical common sense can be. Through this blog, we offer the following guidance to owner-operators of affordable housing to remain connected to your residents during this time of social distancing.

  • Part 1: Keep both your residents and your staff safe by communicating and following public health guidelines.
  • Part 2: Be a trustworthy partner, understand resident needs and concerns and serve as an effective conduit to resources and supports. 

Communication Is Key

At the most basic level, your outreach and appropriate supports will be dependent on how well you and your staff can communicate with your residents, and that requires having some form of connection with them. If you don’t know them well, your first step should be to find out who does. 

Social isolation is an important concern during this time of social distancing, especially for those with limited access to or comfort with technology. Providing multiple forms of communication and connection across multiple strategies—including analog—is essential to reaching all residents and providing meaningful and realistic ways for them to receive information and stay connected with others. 

Here are some steps you can take.

  1. If you don’t know your residents, connect with those who can support. Connecting with residents through trusted organizations is your best strategy for effectiveness in the immediate situation and to build trust for the future. This is not an optimal time to bring in new staff or stand up new programming. 
  2. Communicate early and often. You will need residents’ contact information on multiple platforms if possible, a basic understanding of the context in which they live, languages spoken, and if possible, community assets and vulnerabilities. Keep in mind that resident phone numbers may change frequently, especially as resources become increasingly constrained.
  3. Communicate the role you and your staff will play during this time.
  4. Address the uncomfortable questions around rent payment and health needs.
  5. Choose appropriate forms of communication—use many formats—and find a centralized place where residents can access information in their own time.
    • Mailings
    • Phone calls such as resident health checks, resident-organized phone trees, call-buddies for seniors
    • 3-5-minute info-sharing conference calls throughout the week
    • Text messaging
    • Flyers, signage and posters
    • Resident service apps that residents’ families or loved ones can also use
    • Communications in multiple languages if needed – the COVID-19 Literacy Project provides fact sheets in 30+ languages.
    • When possible, provide one-on-one connection for residents with a community health worker or service coordinator who has resources available locally and who has an idea of resources people could be connected to for their individual situation.
  6. Use communication to understand and safeguard needs, such as public health and safety, food access, etc.

Be a Partner – Serve As a Conduit

For many of your residents, you will be the most trusted and accessible source for information and resources. That is why communication is paramount and being a trusted partner can be the best approach for supporting overall health and well-being. 

We are employing social distancing methods as a society to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus and save lives. A top priority during this pandemic should be ensuring that public health protocols are in place and communicated. 

Beyond that, at Enterprise we believe that people know what they need and how money can be best spent to maximize resilience in the face of these challenges. Many organizations are working to meet fundamental needs right now; gathering that information and communicating it to residents allows you to serve as a conduit to basic and enhanced services. 

The following is a list of topics you may want to be familiar with and communicate about during this crisis.

  1. Public health and safety
    • Communicate what you and your staff are doing to keep residents safe when navigating the building. This might include the closure or limitation of certain common areas, cleaning routines, or new behavioral expectations for essential areas of use like the elevator, stairs, or hallways.
    • Communicate clear guidance on what local and national public health officials are recommending.
    • Ensure clean and sanitized common spaces throughout the building.
  2. Mental health support for residents, staff and yourself: Identify sources and encourage connections.
  3. Staff support: Remember that staff need ongoing support through this process as well. Build it into daily individual and collective practice for all staff.
  4. Food access 
    • Organize and facilitate food deliveries, particularly for those most vulnerable, in accordance with sanitation and physical distancing guidelines. 
    • Provide information about which food pantries are still open and local restaurants providing food assistance.  Feeding America has a national map of food banks and other pandemic-related resources.
  5. Rent expectations and resources
    • Know what guidance and resources are available—make sure you understand what is required in your locality and what resources are available to support you and your residents.
    • Relieve rent requirements, wherever possible, and pass relief you are receiving on to residents to help them meet their most fundamental, urgent needs.
    • Create payment plans for immediate relief and late fee forgiveness—going beyond forbearance when possible.
  6. Provision of services
    • Facilitate virtual service provision, e.g. social worker meetings, financial services, etc.
    • Provide transportation for people to attend doctor appointments, purchase necessities and access other essential services.
    • Partner with service providers to help residents access cash through emergency funds or matched savings accounts.
  7. Digital connectivity
    • Ensure that your buildings are wired for internet access and partner with internet service providers—internet has become an essential utility for social, services and educational connectivity.
    • Support free or low-cost digital connectivity and devices for kids to do distance learning. This often is done through connection to resources and partners (see EveryoneOn). 
    • Transition after-school programming to distance learning/1:1 tutoring.
  8. Social connection: Provide information about how to sustain social connectivity in remote formats
    1. Houses of worship that are streaming services 
    2. Spiritual or social groups hosting virtual healing circles
    3. Exercise classes, reading groups, spiritual circles
    4. Pen pals and postcard writing 
    5. Virtual and solidarity community suppers

In all of this, don’t forget about yourself. We understand this is extremely challenging—that you are also dealing with this pandemic and the disruptions it has caused in your own life, while supporting staff and residents. However, we are all in this together. 

At Enterprise, we believe that by supporting our neighbors, we create a better opportunity for homes to be the hub—providing access to the health, safety and wellbeing we all need to make it through these challenging times.  

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