Tenants are critical beneficiaries and stakeholders of the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program. Regular engagement with tenants has been crucial in creating a feedback loop to measure the effectiveness of the program, including garnering information that can be used for ongoing program evaluation. When tenants are involved in the process of executing and maintaining a program, program administrators can pivot and retool the rental assistance program and ensure that it is successful in its mission. Grantees have made great strides through the life of the program to partner with community stakeholders and bring awareness and rental assistance access for those tenants in need. In addition to rental assistance, ERA can also offer a system of housing stability and eviction diversion services. Effective tenant engagement can help tenants connect to and evaluate these services, avoiding eviction and remaining stably housed.
As one example of how Treasury is modeling this approach to tenant engagement, the Department’s leadership has been hosting quarterly virtual tenant roundtable events to highlight the impact of ERA on tenant housing stability. These roundtables invite ERA grantees, relevant community-based organizations, and tenants from a variety of jurisdictions to discuss how their local ERA program changed the way their community distributes rental assistance and other supportive services for vulnerable households. Over the course of the program, these roundtables have provided invaluable insights from ERA beneficiaries on innovative eviction prevention and housing stability strategies, effective outreach efforts, and the role of intentional engagement of key community stakeholders.
Advantages to using this practice
- Creates vital feedback loop used for ongoing program integrity and evaluation.
- Promotes tenants’ awareness of available housing resources.
- Provides an opportunity for program beneficiaries to be involved in rental assistance design and execution.
- Contributes to housing program efficacy and tenant sustainability.
- Creates an opportunity to translate benefits across all housing programs that service low-income households in your community.
- Provides a channel to learn from traditionally underserved communities about how to engage with them more effectively.
Steps to Take
- EVALUATE tenant engagement needs.
- Analyze application data for patterns and gaps.
- Speak with key community stakeholders.
- IDENTIFY and partner with individuals or agencies with existing strategies
- Connect with community-based organizations and local government departments, especially those that provide culturally and linguistically competent services within the community.
- Use information gathered from data analysis and stakeholder conversations to identify additional partners.
- DEVELOP a coordinated strategy for engagement
- Compile and organize information gathered.
- Develop a list of potential strategies.
- Pair strategies with key partners.
- Execute strategies, based upon assessment of needs, with identified partners for successful engagement.
Culturally and linguistically appropriate tenant engagement is critical to cutting barriers to program access.
City of Boston, MA
The City of Boston’s Mayor’s Office of Housing and Office of Housing Stability partner with Boston’s Asian American Civic Association (AACA) to ensure program access for the Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) population. As a community-based organization, the AACA staff members act as interpreters and housing advocates for AAPI tenants, promoting awareness of available housing resources. Additionally, case management services provided to tenants offer a network of support, while simultaneously enabling a critical feedback loop to improve access to resources.
Ramsey County, MN
Ramsey County, MN, contracted with four culturally and linguistically appropriate community partners to provide housing navigation. Specific to the Asian-American population, the Hmong American Partnership (HAP), located in the city of St. Paul, provided housing navigation services for the Hmong, Karen, Vietnamese, Thai, and Cambodian populations. In addition to addressing the needs of more than 25,000 immigrants and refugees across the Twin Cities, HAP promoted ERA awareness to Asian-American tenants and facilitated applications for ERA financial assistance.
- Your community may already have a tenant, or consumer, advisory group or coalition that meets regularly to discuss and evaluate programs within your community.
Your community may already have a platform for consumers to report feedback on community programs and services, such as 211, community surveys or advisory councils.
Hillsborough County, FL
Hillsborough County utilized the county online service request tool, available on the county website, for tenants to submit questions and feedback. The online tool is available 24/7 and submissions are immediately routed to the appropriate ERA staff members. The county worked internally with its communications department to ensure that anyone submitting comments specific to ERA was able to be routed to the ERA team quickly. These were then escalated to the team dedicated to landlord and tenant ERA application engagement.
- Offering an incentive for participation may help increase survey responses or focus group attendance.
Facilitating focus groups or conducting interviews with ERA beneficiaries can help facilitate consumer involvement in program integrity and evaluation.
Polk County, IA
Polk County, IA, facilitated two phases of tenant engagement through 20 in-depth telephone interviews (qualitative) and 357 telephone surveys (quantitative) to fully understand how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted households financially, including their ability to pay rent. Interviews and surveys were targeted to those who received ERA assistance, selected at random, to determine any positive impact helping families return to their pre-pandemic financial situation. The county compiled the information and analyzed the data to determine how to best utilize the funding and implement strategic program design.
Conducting surveys with ERA beneficiaries may be a productive way to solicit feedback and allow for additional tenant engagement opportunities.
State of Kentucky
The State of Kentucky conducted a survey of households who received ERA funds, asking a series of questions related to the circumstances leading up to their request for assistance, how they heard about the ERA program, their experience requesting assistance, and the outcome of their request. The information received supported the critical needs for ongoing rental assistance programs and informed ongoing advocacy and outreach efforts. The state continues to use detailed surveys to examine the experience of assisted tenants, unpack challenges to housing stability, and align tools of effectiveness across programs.
City of Sacramento
The City of Sacramento, CA, added a link to a survey that was emailed to all tenants and landlords after ERA financial assistance was disbursed. The survey asks a variety of questions including satisfaction with services received, how the tenant/landlord heard about the program, and community organizations involved that may have provided additional support. They survey also allowed for tenants to enter their contact information for continued involvement. A tenant would then receive correspondence from an ERA program staff member for further conversation about their feedback and have the opportunity to provide their feedback in a public forum, such as a city council meeting. ERA program leadership utilize the feedback received to make critical changes to the program to maximize effectiveness, report to elected officials, and celebrate the programs’ impact.
There may be community-based organizations in your community that both advocate on behalf of tenants and provide services that are well positioned to engage tenants in consistent dialogue about services needed to better serve the community.
Contra Costa County, CA
To successfully implement its ERA program, Contra Costa County, CA, partnered with community-based organizations, including those that advocate on behalf of tenants to promote affordable housing initiatives and direct tenant services. In particular, the county utilized a local coalition comprised of organizations and community members known for advancing the interests of tenants to structure housing stability services for renters utilizing ERA financial assistance. This coalition proposed tenant engagement services for notifying tenants about ERA and identified service providers that could successfully implement wrap around services. The county felt it was critical to the success of its ERA program to have messaging and engagement come from trusted community partners.
Determine how tenant engagement can contribute to the long-term infrastructure of your rental assistance program
- Are there funding streams that might cover costs of tenant participation in meetings, focus groups, etc.?
- Is there opportunity to collect and synthesize information received from your strategies?
- How can this information be used for future rental assistance and eviction prevention efforts?
- Are there ways to engage tenants in advocacy initiatives for tenant protections in your community?
In early 2023, the White House released a Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights. The Blueprint lays out a set of principles to drive action by the federal government, state and local partners, and the private sector to strengthen tenant protections and encourage rental affordability.