Community Partners’ Quick Response Helps Put Tenants on the Road to Recovery
Before any government mandate on eviction moratoriums, the Better Housing Coalition (BHC), owner and manager of 17 affordable apartment communities across Greater Richmond and Petersburg, had already placed a moratorium on evictions and late fees through the end of 2020, thereby helping to stabilize families affected by COVID-related job losses and wage reductions. Going a step further to assist residents impacted by the pandemic, BHC is launching its Family Financial Fortification (FFF) program, a new and comprehensive set of supports to help the most hard-hit residents move from crisis to financial stability.
“These are challenging and unprecedented times, and we are working in partnership with many stakeholders to ensure that all of our neighbors are surviving the current health and economic crises,” said Greta J. Harris, BHC’s President and CEO. “No BHC resident will have to worry about losing their home because of a COVID-related inability to pay rent,” she said. While rent payments are not being forgiven altogether, eligible BHC residents could receive up to $3,000 per household in emergency rental assistance under the new FFF program, plus access to enhanced career development services.
In a spring telephone survey of households across BHC’s portfolio, nearly 200 households reported a loss of job or wages due to COVID-19, threatening both the economic security and housing stability of these families, most of whom do not have a nest egg on which to rely. While supplemental unemployment benefits have provided temporary aid to some, the number of impacted households is expected to increase significantly as CARES Act stimulus funds have come to a halt.
To secure the necessary resources for its residents’ immediate needs, BHC raised a pool of more than $850,000 over the past four months from public, corporate and private philanthropic partners to support its residents. Of this amount, the majority is earmarked for emergency rental assistance to ensure the housing stability (and by extension, the health and safety) of BHC families and seniors during the global pandemic. Remaining funds will help underwrite supports such as career assessment, skill building and job retraining; and tuition assistance for academic pursuits as well as technology resources to help residents take advantage of these new opportunities.
Partnership with Reynolds Community College = Better Jobs
A collaboration with Reynolds Community College provides a powerful aid to financial recovery for BHC residents seeking a new career path or higher wage job. “Many adult BHC residents work in employment sectors that have been severely impacted by this health crisis; and some of these jobs are not likely to return once the threat of the pandemic is lifted,” said Stacie Birchett, Vice President of External Affairs at BHC. Reynolds Community College staff curated a set of courses for technical certifications specifically for BHC residents that will lead to employment in high-demand areas such as health care, information technology and skilled trades.
“The resiliency of BHC residents is inspiring, and we’re proud to partner with the Better Housing Coalition,” said Reynolds President Paula Pando. “Our mandate is to serve our community through the transformational power of education. We must accelerate this work to address the circumstances we now face. As workers grapple with job losses, we know their need to re-skill is urgent and must lead to jobs that pay a family sustaining wage.”
Philanthropic Partners Respond with Generosity
Major funders of BHC’s FFF program to date are the City of Richmond, the County of Chesterfield, the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond, Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, The Cabell Foundation, Virginia Housing, NeighborWorks America, Richmond Memorial Health Foundation and The Cameron Foundation. “We applaud the flexibility and initiative of these community partners who were able to respond so quickly to the needs of those who are hurting in our community,” said Ms. Harris.
Pipeline for Increased Access to Affordable Housing
Despite current economic uncertainties caused by the health pandemic, BHC’s real estate pipeline is robust, with more than 600 service-enriched rental units currently under development across Metro-Richmond, and more than 40 lots under site control that will afford family wealth-building opportunities through homeownership sales. “The need for quality housing at an affordable price continues to be great in our region,” Ms. Harris said. “This work reflects our commitment to the objectives set forth last December by our Board of Directors in our new 5-year strategic plan.” A major goal of this plan is to add 1,500 additional affordable housing units in the Richmond region during that timeframe, through acquisition or new construction.