The affordable housing industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. Like a small town after a tornado, many PHAs and program administrators are now standing in the aftermath unsure of how to succeed in the current climate.
We gathered a few inside sources and asked for their insight on… what they have experienced, what is coming next, and how to prepare for the future. This is what they had to say.
Numbers Don’t Lie
At the start of the pandemic, researchers at multiple institutes and universities across the nation set out to estimate the number of lower-income renting households that were the most vulnerable to COVID-related job loss. Together, these studies concluded that between 27% and 34% of these renting families were at risk of seeing a significant reduction in wages or losing employment.
Fast forward to late 2021, and The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that, at its peak, 38% off all adults in the U.S. had difficulty meeting household expenses during the pandemic. 16% of adults reported to the Census Bureau that they had fallen behind on rent payments and, as of October 2021, they still hadn’t been able to make up the arears.
As funding for Emergency Rental Assistance programs depletes evictions are reaching pre-pandemic levels. According to Princeton University in most areas they are expected to surpass those numbers as rents continue to rise.
The numbers were correct from the beginning, so what can we do now that PHAs find themselves in the middle of it all?
Challenge Meet Solutions
Of all the people we interviewed for this article, there was one common solution each provided. PHAs WILL BE USING ONLINE AND VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS from here on out.
Once the pandemic closed agency offices nationwide, PHAs adopted remote formats for tenants and landlords to conduct any necessary business. Whether it was reasonable accommodations, move requests, document verifications, or accepting applications, PHAs who implemented online portals during the pandemic are winning the race right now.
Some Still See Struggles
While the majority see this as a welcome change that has streamlined operations for the better, HCV call center supervisor Jared Rodriguez reported she has seen an increase in calls from elderly or disabled participants who have unique struggles with the online transition.
One way for PHAs to counteract this is to be proactive. Create community partnerships with local senior centers, adult education centers, or social services who can assist with either computer literacy education or providing internet access to those without it.
Ronnie Odom, Director of Business Development and Professional Services at AMA Consulting Group, says PHAs who took advantage of the HUD SEMAP Covid waiver need to be prepared. This particular waiver suspended the requirement to submit an annual Section Eight Management Assessment Program (SEMAP) certification. However, now PHAs are being required to reinstate this process. Ronnie’s advice for each PHA is to conduct a thorough quality control review. We want to ensure that we are addressing any areas that have been overlooked and get our agencies into compliance and prepared for any impending audits.
Curve the Rent Crisis
The U.S. is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis. Rent.com reports rents are up more than 24% nationwide this year. The annual FMR set by HUD cannot keep up with the rise in rent prices. This is causing voucher-holders to find it extremely difficult to secure housing, especially within the typical 60-day timeframe allotted to them.
A potential solution is to implement a change in your administrative plan that allows families more time to search. Simply updating the admin plan to offer extensions to searching families who need them, can make a big difference. Another creative option is to take advantage of the rise in eviction rates and to increase outreach for HCV to owners and landlords. The guaranteed payments and HAP contract are likely to be very attractive to landlords who have suffered the last 2 years with tenants who have either been unable or, in some cases, chose not to pay rent. More landlords, mean more units available for families.
One Foot in Front of the Other
The bottom line for all of us is, like most of the world we’ve been thrusted into a “new normal” whether we like it or not. And every small step adds significance to our mission.
No matter which of these steps you take to improve and recover, set a high standard for your team. Ronnie said it best, “A quality program is only as good as the quality of the work you put into it...”