While the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program addresses the immediate financial distress faced by tenants and landlords during the COVID-19 pandemic, ERA can also serve as a catalyst to pilot solutions for existing gaps in the housing ecosystem and support long-term housing stability for renters. Under ERA1, housing stability services may be used to provide eligible households with services related to the COVID-19 outbreak, while ERA2 funds may be used to provide services intended to help keep households stably housed.
FAQs 1, 23, & 29 all address housing stability services.
FAQ 23 addresses specific activities related to housing stability services:
Housing stability services are services “that enable eligible households to maintain or obtain housing.” These services may include, among other things, eviction prevention and eviction diversion programs; mediation between landlords and tenants; housing counseling; fair housing counseling; housing navigators or promotoras that help households access ERA programs or find housing; case management related to housing stability; housing-related services for survivors of domestic abuse or human trafficking; legal services or attorney’s fees related to eviction proceedings and maintaining housing stability; and specialized services for individuals with disabilities or seniors that support their ability to access or maintain housing.
HOUSING STABILITY SERVICES
ERA funds can be used to support services that are intended to keep households stably housed. ERA grantees across the country have successfully used housing stability services to support outreach to various communities, to fund eviction prevention and diversion efforts and to support relocation and rehousing efforts. Relocation and rehousing efforts can support households needing to relocate to another unit or unhoused households obtaining housing.
Some grantees are also using ERA financial assistance and housing stability funds to address gaps in existing housing ecosystems by providing better access to existing housing stability services. Through braiding resources, ERA housing stability services can provide wrap-around casework to support vulnerable families and build a long-term infrastructure.
While the priority of many eligible households receiving rental assistance is to address a temporary hardship to get back on track and avoid entering a cycle of housing instability, many households were already stuck in a cycle of financial hardship that was further exacerbated by the pandemic. Integration of wrap-around services can be particularly important for tenants who have more than a temporary hardship related to the pandemic and for whom financial assistance covering rental arrears is not enough to “catch up” over the long term.
Advantages to using this practice
Having a network of support services can help households move out of a cycle of housing instability and into a pathway of financial stability. Examples of those who may be served by this practice include eligible households that:
- have previously received rental assistance,
- have a history of eviction,
- need referrals and system navigation to access a variety of services, including but not limited to workforce development, financial literacy, case management, health & behavioral health services, food resources, etc.,
- need additional support and coaching to develop a reliable self-sufficiency plan for maintaining housing, or
- need housing navigation to find affordable and habitable housing options.
By implementing these services, a long-term infrastructure is built that can help break the cycle of housing instability and support a holistic community recovery.
Steps to take
Assess need for long-term housing stability and eviction prevention services in housing ecosystem
- Network with program administrators of other housing services and local organizations that serve various vulnerable populations about gaps in the current system.
- Network with local courts and organizations that provide legal services for tenants facing eviction.
- Join and/or create coalitions and workgroups that are strategically planning housing stabilization and/or eviction prevention for your community.
- Analyze available data to determine recurrence of households requesting assistance, evictions, and other metrics as defined.
Map services to create shared understanding of ecosystem
- List all services related to housing stability.
- Indicate programs that are long-term vs. short-term.
- Consider how an individual or family might become aware of and navigate available assistance.
- Plot services in a map to show relationship.
- Consider referral and intake processes for these services.
- Review map with relevant stakeholders to ensure accuracy and alignment.
- Facilitate a workshop/focus groups to allow stakeholders to contribute edits.
- List all services related to housing stability.
Identify opportunities to incorporate housing stability and eviction prevention services to fill identified system gaps
- Consider braiding funding with other agencies and/or state and local resources to fund services that are directly related to housing and housing stability, such as housing counseling or housing navigation.
- Consider braiding services with agencies that already offer housing stability and other services directly related to housing and housing stability, including:
- Credit counseling, budgeting, financial literacy.
- Case management.
- Legal services for tenants facing eviction.
- Assess referral systems and networks.
- Consider utilizing a centralized system approach to access services.
- Assess landlord engagement and mediation strategies.
- Determine which agencies have strategies and forums to engage with landlords to rent to low-income households.
- Determine if there are agencies facilitating mediation within the courts or community to avoid/prevent eviction.
Implementation of housing stability plan, and incorporation of quality control
- Establish system of providers and networks that support housing stabilization and eviction prevention.
- Consider using data or other strategies to track impact of efforts.
- Develop quantitative metrics that could measure success, which might include:
- Tracking eviction data.
- Tracking entrance into homelessness system.
- Tracking rehousing numbers.
- Develop qualitative metrics that could measure success, which might include:
- Successful connection to services.
- Length of time a household is stably housed.
- Develop a follow-up strategy that is manageable within your program design; this may include smaller post-program interview strategies for randomly selected participants.
- Develop quantitative metrics that could measure success, which might include:
- Meet regularly with collaborators to adjust as necessary, using quantitative and qualitative data from implemented data platform.
- Establish a community of learning.
- Schedule consistent learning and education opportunities.
- Establish effective communication loops for network of providers.
- Allow opportunities to share challenges and lessons learned.
- Support opportunities to brainstorm and identify collaborative solutions.
- There may be networks and coalitions who are already focused on housing stabilization and will be interested in expanding/refocusing efforts.
- Consider the geographic characteristics of your community, and how this may impact outreach and delivery of services.
- To preserve funding and prioritize assistance, determine ways to evaluate high vulnerability for housing instability.
- There may be data platforms already tracking desired information for other vulnerable populations.
- If coordinated data tracking is not possible, established communication channels are key.
- ERA housing stability services is primarily focused on services that are directly related to obtaining and maintain housing for eligible households.
Examples of building housing stability development
STATE OF MONTANA
Montana partners with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) on the intersection of housing and healthcare needs under an Interdepartmental Housing Integration Project (IHIP) that involves monthly meetings between Montana Housing / Commerce staff, DPHHS as well as the State of Montana Continuum of Care and other partners. It’s through this partnership that the state identifies training curriculum for partner organizations and shares referral information between its ERA staff (including a call center) and partners to best direct residents to other resources that may be able to support them beyond ERA. Program administrators note that deploying ERA Housing Stability Services is helping the State of Montana better identify and adopt best practices for housing-related supportive services, including housing navigation and housing case management (stability services and eviction prevention).
THE STATE OF NORTH DAKOTA
In North Dakota, ERA has been a catalyst to support stronger statewide networks of organizations supporting housing stability. The state has contracted with 20 community-based organizations around the state. Through this network, they were able to put in place application counselors and housing facilitators to assist households with the application process and beyond. In addition, they have secured mediation services for those facing eviction. To support continual development of housing stability in the state, program administrators have created “communities of learning,” which involve regular meetings to discuss, develop, and refine their housing stability strategies.
JEFFERSON COUNTY, ALABAMA
Jefferson County, Alabama has established a strong eviction prevention and housing stability infrastructure that did not exist before ERA. Jefferson County’s District Court judges championed the development of a landlord/tenant meeting which is a partnership among the district courts, local legal aid services, the volunteer lawyers, landlord attorneys, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson County Department of Community Services, and the community-based organization administering the ERA program in addition to tenant advocates. Additionally, mediation clinics have been implemented and ERA program information has been added to tenants’ seven-day eviction notice. The County has taken a comprehensive approach to ensure that both tenants and landlords have access to resources, as well as establishing partnerships that support housing counseling and education services that are also offered through the community-based organization administering the ERA program.
NORTHAMPTON COUNTY, PA
Northampton County has a network of providers that covers all areas of the county. As an eviction prevention strategy, the county hired tenant navigators that complete networking within the courts and connect tenants to social services through a variety of partnerships that offer services such as credit counseling, case management, and other legal services. As a long-term strategy, Northampton is looking into an education component for tenants who will be exiting the program to ensure that they relate to the services and resources necessary to prevent housing instability.
MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ
Maricopa County has used their designation as a Community Action Agency, as well as partnering with other social service agencies to provide wrap-around services which include case management, workforce development, and more. They have also coordinated with other federal programs that they provide in the County, like Head Start, to quickly connect families to rental assistance to prevent evictions. Additionally, their eviction prevention strategy includes navigators in the courts to prevent evictions, as well as a landlord coordinator to work with landlords to prevent the eviction process from even beginning, and a coordination of services with the help of community legal services. 211 Arizona, a nationwide source of information for local resources and services sponsored by the United Way, plays an integral part in coordinating supports for tenants in need.
Examples of partnerships & braiding resources
CITY OF COLUMBUS & FRANKLIN COUNTY, OHIO
Columbus has contracted with over 30 agencies to provide application assistance and wrap-around services for tenants. The combination of agencies covers a variety of vulnerable populations, including refugees, seniors, youth, and those experiencing homelessness. In addition, they’ve also partnered with legal and mediation services to help tenants develop payment plans or moveout plans with landlords, as well as have staff directly in the courts to check real time application data and facilitate continuations.
Franklin County has administered its ERA funds through two primary partner agencies, the Department of Job and Family Services, and a local community action agency. Both agencies have a long history of partnership with the county, in addition to having historically dispersed rental assistance to those in need. In addition, they are working with the city of Columbus, to access services through legal aid and mediation to prevent eviction. The Department of Job and Family Services primarily serves households with children and is able to braid funding resources to offer additional rent and utility assistance if necessary. The Department also contracts with several community partners to offer services ranging from behavioral health, workforce, and food insecurity in order to refer and secure additional wrap-around resources for families.
The city and the county collaborate in bringing together a housing stabilization taskforce to identify gaps and opportunities to better serve the community across various programs and funding streams. These have proven invaluable in strengthening local community networks.
CITY OF ATLANTA, GEORGIA
Particularly during the height of the pandemic, remote learning for school-age children created significant stress on renters who often had to forego income to care for children who would have otherwise been at school during the day. In many cases, low-income households also did not have internet services or the necessary technology to help their children successfully navigate remote learning. The city of Atlanta worked with counselors integrated into the school system to identify low-income renter households where children were not attending their classes through remote platforms. Braiding ERA with other funding, local officials were able to offer these households funds for internet services and computer equipment for their children to access the remote classroom, in addition to providing financial support for rent and utilities.
Determine opportunities to fit housing stability services into programming.
- Determining how to add additional housing stability services into existing rental assistance infrastructure can be challenging. Are there partners or opportunities that can make integration of these services feasible?
- With limited ERA funds available to many grantees, coordination with other housing programs to identify strategies can help ERA programs reach the most vulnerable households that could uniquely benefit from ERA programs. These strategies can also serve as an opportunity to create a “soft landing” for the most vulnerable renters in the community.
Consider your long-term strategy for housing infrastructure.
- ERA1 funds will be available until September 30, 2022 (except funds received through reallocation, which grantees may request to use through December 29, 2022). ERA2 funds are available until September 30, 2025. Budgeting a portion of ERA2 funds for housing stability services, to strategically support the most vulnerable households over the next several years, can help bolster local infrastructure.
- Consider using ERA funds to pilot solutions to improve local housing infrastructure and pinpoint solutions that would not have been apparent otherwise.
- Identify other housing programs that can be beneficiaries of the knowledge gained from the implementation of the ERA program. Were there innovations in outreach, application processes, financial assistance, or housing stability assistance from which other programs can learn?
How it connects to your program’s health
An infrastructure of housing stability services can ensure that support for the most vulnerable will be available. Financial assistance is not the only priority, and services can be primarily focused on coaching and educating vulnerable households. When rental assistance is scarce, support services can still play a role in preventing eviction and homelessness.