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Spotlight: A Conversation with Margaret Salazar, Executive Director of Oregon Housing And Community Services

When Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) published its first ever Statewide Housing Plan in 2019, the housing finance agency (HFA) could not have imagined the challenging landscape it would be navigating in 2020 or the new level of urgency the plan’s priorities – affordable rental housing, racial justice, homelessness, homeownership, permanent supportive housing and rural communities – would take on in the midst of a global pandemic.

OHCS is responsible for providing financial and operational support across the state to create and preserve opportunities for quality, affordable housing. OHCS administers a wide range of programs, partnering with state government agencies and local organizations, and engages leaders to develop integrated statewide policy that addresses poverty and creates opportunity for Oregonians. A “one stop shop” for Oregon housing, OHCS is tasked with stewardship, compliance monitoring, and asset management as it oversees funds from both federal and state resources.

The National Housing Conference spoke to OHCS Executive Director Margaret Salazar to discuss how this agile HFA, with an exceptionally broad mandate, was able to react and respond to a dramatic spike in housing-related need in the wake of COVID-19. Salazar explained how the challenges the organization faced in recent months have deepened OHCS’s commitment to sustainable housing and shined a bright light on the need for culturally responsive partners that deliver a positive and equitable impact in Oregonians’ lives.

OHCS worked closely with Oregon Governor Kate Brown and laid the groundwork for the state legislature’s support of sustainable housing through advocacy.

Has COVID-19 impacted the priorities established in the Statewide Housing Plan?

OHCS’s five-year Statewide Housing Plan was the result of two years of planning and listening tours across Oregon’s diverse communities – both large and small – including coastal villages, urban centers, “wheat country” and Portland’s suburbs. The plan lays out how OHCS will create more stable housing opportunities and highlights important priorities including advancing equity and racial justice, ending homelessness, investing in permanent supportive housing, reducing the cost burden for low-income renters, helping more households achieve and maintain homeownership, and responding to the unique housing needs of rural communities.

Each and every one of these priorities took on new meaning in 2020. From the challenge of avoiding homelessness and providing safe congregate housing during a pandemic to ensuring newly appropriated emergency funds were distributed quickly and equitably, OHCS’s commitment to the statewide housing plan was put to the test. The past couple of months have certainly illuminated areas for improvement, such as finding better solutions for agricultural workers who require emergency housing close to their place of employment in sparsely populated rural areas. However, just as important, COVID-19 has underscored how critical these priorities really are to keeping Oregonian families and individuals safe and secure – regardless of what’s happening in the world.

How does the COVID-19 Has COVID-19 changed OHCS’s relationships with its partners?

OHCS partners with many state government agencies and service providers across its programs for affordable rental housing development, asset building, asset management, energy and weatherization, homeownership, housing stabilization, homelessness prevention and manufactured homes. COVID-19 served to deepen existing relationships with partners in the state government, while also fostering stronger relationships with a diverse group of organizations.

As a part of OHCS COVID-19 outreach and response, the HFA collaborated with dozens of organizations, ranging from the state’s largest farm worker union to the Oregon Health Authority, to ensure the most comprehensive and coordinated supportive service delivery possible. The pandemic also served as a reminder of the value of good relationships with the state legislature and governor’s office. In developing the Statewide Housing Plan, OHCS worked closely with Oregon Governor Kate Brown and laid the groundwork for the state legislature’s support of sustainable housing through advocacy. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, these relationships made it possible for OHCS to easily communicate needs on the ground and obtain the necessary funding.

How did OHCS maintain communication with stakeholders during the pandemic?

Effective communication was key to OHCS’s response to the pandemic. At the onset of COVID-19, OHCS instituted a weekly communication call via Zoom, where program leaders were able to provide the latest updates, disseminate information and answer questions. Managing the deluge of government actions, such as executive orders, challenged the organization’s ability to keep the website up-to-date, but OHCS prioritized providing as much information as possible to its partners.

With its employees working remotely, OHCS worked just as hard to maintain communications with its internal team. Recognizing that many employees are already disconnected from the people they serve – because OHCS acts primarily as a program intermediary and facilitator – the organization had to reflect on how to keep employees engaged and connected in its mission. 

How has OHCS managed the distribution of COVID-19 funding?

OHCS was fortunate to receive significant funding from both the CARES Act and the state, with more than $200 million in housing stabilization and homeless services resources. This includes $26 million in project-based assistance to pay off arrearages in its regulated affordable housing portfolio, $3.5 million to provide non-congregate, safe sheltering for Oregon’s agricultural workers and $56.2 million in CARES Act Emergency Solutions Grant funding.

Knowing that homeowners, renters and households across the state were in dire need of immediate financial and housing support, OHCS tried to carefully balance the need for rapid distribution of aid and the importance of equitable administration of that aid. OHCS has worked to educate policymakers around the time it takes to assess the capability of partners on the ground and the access to support they provide across different communities. While remote work has made such assessments even more challenging, OHCS is requiring its partners to collect data disaggregated by race and ethnicity in order to monitor the impact of program spending.

How has OHCS been impacted by ongoing demonstrations in Portland?

Portland has been an epicenter for demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality, seeing more than 100 days of protests. Even before the widespread unrest seen across the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd’s death, OHCS recognized that racial justice was a priority in need of greater attention.

The Statewide Housing Plan rightly acknowledges that “ongoing discrimination in the housing market combined with systemic barriers to economic mobility, wealth creation and opportunities impede progress toward parity.” In response to this call to action, OHCS committed to adopting an intentional, data-driven approach with its partners to reduce disparities in housing and social services. And although this commitment has proven more challenging in a rapid funding and remote work environment, OHCS has continued to layer a racial equity perspective onto its program administration.

When OHCS had to submit its 2021 budget request, for example, it conducted a racial justice assessment for its proposals. For current outcome-oriented contracts, OHCS has asked partners to demonstrate how they are culturally responsive and working to serve all demographics equally. Understanding that it will take time for all partners to demonstrate such an impact, OHCS has laid out a three-year plan to work with its partners at the end of which, organizations will have to show they are culturally responsive to receive future funding.

How is OHCS serving rural communities?

Oregon is an incredibly diverse state, in terms of ethnicity, occupation, geography and community type. During its COVID-19 response, OHCS has paid close attention to the unique challenges facing even its smallest communities, such as Pacific Islanders. The needs of the state’s agriculture workers living in rural areas were quickly escalated to OHCS through one of its partner organizations early in the pandemic as rent collections saw a decline of 40%.

OHCS immediately stepped in to support emergency housing needs in the agricultural community. The HFA partnered with the Oregon Department of Agriculture to determine the best way to provide non-congregate housing close to places of employment. Drawing on new guidance from Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OHCS developed a way to maintain social distancing through bunk style housing. OHCS also partnered with other state agencies to extend hotel vouchers for agricultural workers and in some cases install trailers on farm properties.

How has COVID-19 changed OHCS as an organization?

Like many housing organizations, COVID-19 has reaffirmed OHCS’s understanding of the critical importance of stable, secure and sustainable housing for all households. As the pandemic laid bare gaps in services, funding and planning across the country, OHCS finds itself a changed agency, more committed than ever to overcoming big challenges to deliver meaningful progress in the areas of racial equity, homelessness and affordable housing.

As the organization looks to 2021 and considers what a post-pandemic landscape will bring, it recognizes going back to the way things used to operate is not an option. OHCS’s experiences during COVID-19 reveal just how essential it is to make the individual’s needs central to the delivery of all social services, from workforce benefits to health and housing. As OHCS moves forward, it plans to develop even stronger interagency partnerships at the federal and state level to build a social safety net that truly meets Oregonians wherever they are at.

Spotlight: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership – Emergency Rental Assistance Program

As COVID-19 cases increase and unemployment rates rise, renters across the country are particularly vulnerable. Of the 110 million renters living in the U.S., an estimated 19-23 million are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, 2020. In response to this crisis, The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership (the Housing Partnership) acted quickly to set up an Emergency Rental Assistance Program for the City of Charlotte (ERAP-CLT) to assist clients experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. The Housing Partnership is one of North Carolina’s leading affordable housing organizations, serving low- and moderate-income households and communities through real estate development, homeownership education, financing and neighborhood revitalization.  

Since early April, ERAP-CLT has served more than 2,000 applicants. In an effort to expand the reach of the program and help as many individuals as possible, the Housing Partnership has leveraged its network of partner organizations to address a broad range of tenant needs that might not otherwise be covered by a typical rental assistance program. As a result, ERAP-CLT has grown into a program that assists clients with utilities and hotel bills, as well as legal and job counseling. Importantly, ERAP-CLT’s flexible and adaptive program design has also opened the program to cost-burdened households above 80% of the area median income (AMI). ERAP-CLT has not only reduced the pipeline of eviction filings, but has provided much-needed support to those living in Charlotte’s missing middle housing.

The National Housing Conference connected with Erin Barbee, senior vice president of programs and fund development, to find out how the Housing Partnership was able to put together a rental assistance program so quickly and how the program has evolved over the past few months. This conversation was edited for brevity. 

What is ERAP-CLT and who does it serve?  

We began the program with funding from the United Way and later expanded through partnerships with the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, utilizing community development block grants (CDBG) and CARES Act funding. We have also received funding from Truist, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. These diverse sources of funding have allowed us to create a comprehensive program that addresses a broad range of challenges brought on by the pandemic.    

We have processed more than 2,000 applications from individuals and families facing COVID-19 related financial hardship. The program was initially intended to help tenants living in income-restricted rental units serving those at 80% AMI and below. However, as the program evolved, we saw that there was a need for residents who were in the 80-120% AMI range. The county and CARES Act funding we received allowed us to serve cost-burdened tenants in market rate properties and tenants at 120% AMI and below.

In order to receive assistance, a tenant must fill out an application and have experienced at least one of the following types of hardship as a result of COVID-19: job loss, wage reduction, illness, or childcare challenges.

The tenant must also be living in an eligible property. In order for a property to be eligible, property managers must fill out an application and agree to certain terms and conditions. This includes providing their rent rolls every month so that our organization can double check the information against what the tenant has provided. We also require the managers to agree to certain conditions—a small rent concession, not charging late fees, and importantly, not moving forward with eviction.  

These conditions ensure tenants are not negatively impacted by arrears or late fees. We also wanted to leverage this program to help reduce the pipeline for eviction filing. The City of Charlotte now has a mediation process. So those who take part in this program must agree to participate in a mediation process instead of going through the court system.

As the program has evolved, we have expanded the qualifying criteria for properties in order to help as many people as possible. We initially served three properties at 80% AMI and below with the help of private funding. When the city of Charlotte came forward with the CDBG emergency funds, we started to work with properties that had City of Charlotte investments, which brought us up to about 101 properties. Mecklenburg County also approved funding for 120% AMI and below. Now we have funds from the CARES Act and we’re able to open up the program to larger multifamily properties, or single-family homes with three or four renters.

Can you walk us through the application process and how you and your team interact with the impacted tenant?  

Tenants typically find out about our program when they receive a flyer along with a late notice. To apply for assistance, they need to complete an ERAP-CLT registration form and upload supporting documentation. When we started the program, we had three properties and we received 300 applications in our first few weeks. So, we created an online application using Smart Sheets to streamline and automate the process and allow people to fill out the form on their phone or computer. The application contains demographic and eligibility information as well as authorizations, releases and additional verification items.  

For clients who have challenges with technology, we have a dedicated phone line so they can connect to a counselor who will complete the application over the phone with them. To overcome the technology barrier, we also had some staff meet clients outdoors and assist them with paperwork while practicing social distance.

After the application is submitted, we check the documentation and ensure the tenant lives in an eligible property, then we assign the tenant to a counselor via email. The counselor will reach out to the tenant within 24 hours and set up a budget session. After that, the counselor qualifies the tenant based on the documentation and specific COVID-19 related need. As long as tenants can show month-over-month that they have a COVID-19 related hardship, they are eligible for the funds. Our goal is to process applications and approve clients for payment within 72 hours. After the counselor approves the application, the information is sent to our fiscal agent, Social Serve. In turn, they issue funds to the tenant’s property manager within 24 to 48 hours. Tenants need to reapply each month; as long as they remain eligible, tenants may reapply for as many months as they are in need.  

It’s important to note that ERAP-CLT does not issue funding directly to the tenant. Funds are distributed to the property manager and does not cover past due arrears. In turn, the property manager is contractually obligated to credit each customer’s rental obligation. 

How have you handled staffing for the ERAP-CLT program?  

When we started the program, with no additional staffing, it was difficult to manage the volume of applications. To increase our capacity, we had to work around the clock and pull staff from other projects. As we have secured additional funding, we have been able to scale up using temporary employees. In order to determine how many staff we needed, we came up with a formula. In the first month, we received 300+ applications and we had eight people dedicated to the program. For every 80 applications, we need another counselor. Counseling sessions with each applicant take 30 to 45 minutes. Now we are receiving between 800 and 1,000 applications per month. Scaling up in this manner allowed us to avoid having an application backlog and waitlist. 

How have your partnerships with other organizations evolved as the program has expanded?

Our clients have complex needs and often face more than one challenge. Knowing that the majority of applicants have suffered job loss, we started to work with Charlotte Works, our workforce development partner, to help tenants access opportunities. Applicants can opt-in to the workforce development part of our program and work with Charlotte Works to receive either job opportunities or training and education opportunities. 

Our partnership with Legal Aid seeks to assist tenants with housing-related legal issues. Legal Aid provides counseling on tenant rights and rent disputes. Through our direct referrals to Legal Aid we seek to prevent evictions and provide tenants with information about their legal rights. 

The ability to pay utility bills has also become a challenge many of our clients are facing, so we have partnered with the county to provide funding to support those in need of utility assistance.  

As COVID-19 cases increase and unemployment rates rise, renters across the country are particularly vulnerable. Of the 110 million renters living in the U.S., an estimated 19-23 million are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, 2020. In response to this crisis, The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership (the Housing Partnership) acted quickly to set up an Emergency Rental Assistance Program for the City of Charlotte (ERAP-CLT) to assist clients experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. The Housing Partnership is one of North Carolina’s leading affordable housing organizations, serving low- and moderate-income households and communities through real estate development, homeownership education, financing and neighborhood revitalization.  

Since early April, ERAP-CLT has served more than 2,000 applicants. In an effort to expand the reach of the program and help as many individuals as possible, the Housing Partnership has leveraged its network of partner organizations to address a broad range of tenant needs that might not otherwise be covered by a typical rental assistance program. As a result, ERAP-CLT has grown into a program that assists clients with utilities and hotel bills, as well as legal and job counseling. Importantly, ERAP-CLT’s flexible and adaptive program design has also opened the program to cost-burdened households above 80% of the area median income (AMI). ERAP-CLT has not only reduced the pipeline of eviction filings, but has provided much-needed support to those living in the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.   

The National Housing Conference connected with Erin Barbee, senior vice president of programs and fund development, to find out how the Housing Partnership was able to put together a rental assistance program so quickly and how the program has evolved over the past few months. This conversation was edited for brevity. 

What is ERAP-CLT and who does it serve?  

We began the program with funding from the United Way and later expanded through partnerships with the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, utilizing community development block grants (CDBG) and CARES Act funding. We have also received funding from Truist, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. These diverse sources of funding have allowed us to create a comprehensive program that addresses a broad range of challenges brought on by the pandemic.    

We have processed more than 2,000 applications from individuals and families facing COVID-19 related financial hardship. The program was initially intended to help tenants living in income-restricted rental units serving those at 80% AMI and below. However, as the program evolved, we saw that there was a need for residents who were in the 80-120% AMI range. The county and CARES Act funding we received allowed us to serve cost-burdened tenants in market rate properties and tenants at 120% AMI and below.

In order to receive assistance, a tenant must fill out an application and have experienced at least one of the following types of hardship as a result of COVID-19: job loss, wage reduction, illness, or childcare challenges.

The tenant must also be living in an eligible property. In order for a property to be eligible, property managers must fill out an application and agree to certain terms and conditions. This includes providing their rent rolls every month so that our organization can double check the information against what the tenant has provided. We also require the managers to agree to certain conditions—a small rent concession, not charging late fees, and importantly, not moving forward with eviction.  

These conditions ensure tenants are not negatively impacted by arrears or late fees. We also wanted to leverage this program to help reduce the pipeline for eviction filing. The City of Charlotte now has a mediation process. So those who take part in this program must agree to participate in a mediation process instead of going through the court system.

As the program has evolved, we have expanded the qualifying criteria for properties in order to help as many people as possible. We initially served three properties at 80% AMI and below with the help of private funding. When the city of Charlotte came forward with the CDBG emergency funds, we started to work with properties that had City of Charlotte investments, which brought us up to about 101 properties. Mecklenburg County also approved funding for 120% AMI and below. Now we have funds from the CARES Act and we’re able to open up the program to larger multifamily properties, or single-family homes with three or four renters.

Can you walk us through the application process and how you and your team interact with the impacted tenant?  

Tenants typically find out about our program when they receive a flyer along with a late notice. To apply for assistance, they need to complete an ERAP-CLT registration form and upload supporting documentation. When we started the program, we had three properties and we received 300 applications in our first few weeks. So, we created an online application using Smart Sheets to streamline and automate the process and allow people to fill out the form on their phone or computer. The application contains demographic and eligibility information as well as authorizations, releases and additional verification items.  

For clients who have challenges with technology, we have a dedicated phone line so they can connect to a counselor who will complete the application over the phone with them. To overcome the technology barrier, we also had some staff meet clients outdoors and assist them with paperwork while practicing social distance.

After the application is submitted, we check the documentation and ensure the tenant lives in an eligible property, then we assign the tenant to a counselor via email. The counselor will reach out to the tenant within 24 hours and set up a budget session. After that, the counselor qualifies the tenant based on the documentation and specific COVID-19 related need. As long as tenants can show month-over-month that they have a COVID-19 related hardship, they are eligible for the funds. Our goal is to process applications and approve clients for payment within 72 hours. After the counselor approves the application, the information is sent to our fiscal agent, Social Serve. In turn, they issue funds to the tenant’s property manager within 24 to 48 hours. Tenants need to reapply each month; as long as they remain eligible, tenants may reapply for as many months as they are in need.  

It’s important to note that ERAP-CLT does not issue funding directly to the tenant. Funds are distributed to the property manager and does not cover past due arrears. In turn, the property manager is contractually obligated to credit each customer’s rental obligation. 

How have you handled staffing for the ERAP-CLT program?  

When we started the program, with no additional staffing, it was difficult to manage the volume of applications. To increase our capacity, we had to work around the clock and pull staff from other projects. As we have secured additional funding, we have been able to scale up using temporary employees. In order to determine how many staff we needed, we came up with a formula. In the first month, we received 300+ applications and we had eight people dedicated to the program. For every 80 applications, we need another counselor. Counseling sessions with each applicant take 30 to 45 minutes. Now we are receiving between 800 and 1,000 applications per month. Scaling up in this manner allowed us to avoid having an application backlog and waitlist. 

How have your partnerships with other organizations evolved as the program has expanded?

Our clients have complex needs and often face more than one challenge. Knowing that the majority of applicants have suffered job loss, we started to work with Charlotte Works, our workforce development partner, to help tenants access opportunities. Applicants can opt-in to the workforce development part of our program and work with Charlotte Works to receive either job opportunities or training and education opportunities. 

Our partnership with Legal Aid seeks to assist tenants with housing-related legal issues. Legal Aid provides counseling on tenant rights and rent disputes. Through our direct referrals to Legal Aid we seek to prevent evictions and provide tenants with information about their legal rights. 

The ability to pay utility bills has also become a challenge many of our clients are facing, so we have partnered with the county to provide funding to support those in need of utility assistance.  

As COVID-19 cases increase and unemployment rates rise, renters across the country are particularly vulnerable. Of the 110 million renters living in the U.S., an estimated 19-23 million are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, 2020. In response to this crisis, The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership (the Housing Partnership) acted quickly to set up an Emergency Rental Assistance Program for the City of Charlotte (ERAP-CLT) to assist clients experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. The Housing Partnership is one of North Carolina’s leading affordable housing organizations, serving low- and moderate-income households and communities through real estate development, homeownership education, financing and neighborhood revitalization.  

Since early April, ERAP-CLT has served more than 2,000 applicants. In an effort to expand the reach of the program and help as many individuals as possible, the Housing Partnership has leveraged its network of partner organizations to address a broad range of tenant needs that might not otherwise be covered by a typical rental assistance program. As a result, ERAP-CLT has grown into a program that assists clients with utilities and hotel bills, as well as legal and job counseling. Importantly, ERAP-CLT’s flexible and adaptive program design has also opened the program to cost-burdened households above 80% of the area median income (AMI). ERAP-CLT has not only reduced the pipeline of eviction filings, but has provided much-needed support to those living in the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.   

The National Housing Conference connected with Erin Barbee, senior vice president of programs and fund development, to find out how the Housing Partnership was able to put together a rental assistance program so quickly and how the program has evolved over the past few months. This conversation was edited for brevity. 

What is ERAP-CLT and who does it serve?  

We began the program with funding from the United Way and later expanded through partnerships with the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, utilizing community development block grants (CDBG) and CARES Act funding. We have also received funding from Truist, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. These diverse sources of funding have allowed us to create a comprehensive program that addresses a broad range of challenges brought on by the pandemic.    

We have processed more than 2,000 applications from individuals and families facing COVID-19 related financial hardship. The program was initially intended to help tenants living in income-restricted rental units serving those at 80% AMI and below. However, as the program evolved, we saw that there was a need for residents who were in the 80-120% AMI range. The county and CARES Act funding we received allowed us to serve cost-burdened tenants in market rate properties and tenants at 120% AMI and below.

In order to receive assistance, a tenant must fill out an application and have experienced at least one of the following types of hardship as a result of COVID-19: job loss, wage reduction, illness, or childcare challenges.

The tenant must also be living in an eligible property. In order for a property to be eligible, property managers must fill out an application and agree to certain terms and conditions. This includes providing their rent rolls every month so that our organization can double check the information against what the tenant has provided. We also require the managers to agree to certain conditions—a small rent concession, not charging late fees, and importantly, not moving forward with eviction.  

These conditions ensure tenants are not negatively impacted by arrears or late fees. We also wanted to leverage this program to help reduce the pipeline for eviction filing. The City of Charlotte now has a mediation process. So those who take part in this program must agree to participate in a mediation process instead of going through the court system.

As the program has evolved, we have expanded the qualifying criteria for properties in order to help as many people as possible. We initially served three properties at 80% AMI and below with the help of private funding. When the city of Charlotte came forward with the CDBG emergency funds, we started to work with properties that had City of Charlotte investments, which brought us up to about 101 properties. Mecklenburg County also approved funding for 120% AMI and below. Now we have funds from the CARES Act and we’re able to open up the program to larger multifamily properties, or single-family homes with three or four renters.

Can you walk us through the application process and how you and your team interact with the impacted tenant?  

Tenants typically find out about our program when they receive a flyer along with a late notice. To apply for assistance, they need to complete an ERAP-CLT registration form and upload supporting documentation. When we started the program, we had three properties and we received 300 applications in our first few weeks. So, we created an online application using Smart Sheets to streamline and automate the process and allow people to fill out the form on their phone or computer. The application contains demographic and eligibility information as well as authorizations, releases and additional verification items.  

For clients who have challenges with technology, we have a dedicated phone line so they can connect to a counselor who will complete the application over the phone with them. To overcome the technology barrier, we also had some staff meet clients outdoors and assist them with paperwork while practicing social distance.

After the application is submitted, we check the documentation and ensure the tenant lives in an eligible property, then we assign the tenant to a counselor via email. The counselor will reach out to the tenant within 24 hours and set up a budget session. After that, the counselor qualifies the tenant based on the documentation and specific COVID-19 related need. As long as tenants can show month-over-month that they have a COVID-19 related hardship, they are eligible for the funds. Our goal is to process applications and approve clients for payment within 72 hours. After the counselor approves the application, the information is sent to our fiscal agent, Social Serve. In turn, they issue funds to the tenant’s property manager within 24 to 48 hours. Tenants need to reapply each month; as long as they remain eligible, tenants may reapply for as many months as they are in need.  

It’s important to note that ERAP-CLT does not issue funding directly to the tenant. Funds are distributed to the property manager and does not cover past due arrears. In turn, the property manager is contractually obligated to credit each customer’s rental obligation. 

How have you handled staffing for the ERAP-CLT program?  

When we started the program, with no additional staffing, it was difficult to manage the volume of applications. To increase our capacity, we had to work around the clock and pull staff from other projects. As we have secured additional funding, we have been able to scale up using temporary employees. In order to determine how many staff we needed, we came up with a formula. In the first month, we received 300+ applications and we had eight people dedicated to the program. For every 80 applications, we need another counselor. Counseling sessions with each applicant take 30 to 45 minutes. Now we are receiving between 800 and 1,000 applications per month. Scaling up in this manner allowed us to avoid having an application backlog and waitlist. 

How have your partnerships with other organizations evolved as the program has expanded?

Our clients have complex needs and often face more than one challenge. Knowing that the majority of applicants have suffered job loss, we started to work with Charlotte Works, our workforce development partner, to help tenants access opportunities. Applicants can opt-in to the workforce development part of our program and work with Charlotte Works to receive either job opportunities or training and education opportunities. 

Our partnership with Legal Aid seeks to assist tenants with housing-related legal issues. Legal Aid provides counseling on tenant rights and rent disputes. Through our direct referrals to Legal Aid we seek to prevent evictions and provide tenants with information about their legal rights. 

The ability to pay utility bills has also become a challenge many of our clients are facing, so we have partnered with the county to provide funding to support those in need of utility assistance.  

We also work with Crisis Assistance Ministry who are able to serve those that aren’t eligible for our program, but are still in need. This could include those who cannot demonstrate that their hardship was due to COVID-19, which is required for our program. Through funding from the Foundation of the Carolinas, we are able to work with Crisis Assistance Ministry to share data and transfer information so the individual doesn’t have to start a new application process. Crisis Assistance Ministry can also provide utility assistance to those who aren’t eligible for our programs.  

ERAP-CLT’s Hotel Guest Rent Relief Program

As the program has progressed, the Housing Partnership has become aware of the need to assist those living in hotels and experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19.

  • ERAP-CLT serves two categories of hotel residents:
  • Homeless individuals who are employed but cannot afford a monthly rent payment.
  • Individuals living in a hotel permanently—defined as more than 30 days and receiving mail at their hotel address.
  • ERAP-CLT can pay up to $2,000 of a guest’s hotel bill and requires only a one-time application. Once they begin receiving funding, the individual is partnered with a social worker to connect them with services and support.  
  • The Housing Partnership works with Charlotte’s 211 service and Social Serve to assist with finding permanent housing for hotel guests who have jobs and can afford a low monthly rent payment. Assistance includes help with first and last month’s rent.
  • It is important to note that the eviction moratorium does not apply to evictions from hotel spaces. After COVID-19, many hotel guests have been evicted and gone into homelessness and shelters. ERAP-CLT uses rental assistance funding to keep people in their hotel space for at least another 30 days, or until they are placed into more permanent housing.

How did you market the program?

In the beginning, we did targeted marking in three properties. We created a flyer that was distributed with late notices, and we also posted flyers in elevators and common spaces. As we expanded the footprint of the program, we began coordinating with the City of Charlotte to get the message out about ERAP, which also included presenting at City Council meetings and working with city council members to get the message out to their constituents.  

Along the way, we have focused on the need to have strong relationships with property managers so they can help promote and explain the program. Given the amount of funding we have received and the need we know is out there, we have developed a marketing plan that utilizes all media outlets in order to reach as many people as possible. This strategy is also informed by the data we have collected since April. We have also begun to work with the Apartment Association in order to do more targeted marketing and reach more people in lower AMI areas. 

Importantly, we have to spend all CARES Act funds by Dec. 31, so we are using every avenue that we can be able to get the message out. 

What lessons do you feel like you’ve learned developing and implementing the program that you would like to share with others standing up a COVID-19 rental assistance program ? 

We have learned that we have to be flexible in how we design the program. As the need continues to grow and we receive new funding sources, each one has different requirements. So we have to be able to adapt based on the funding sources and their particular requirements. At the same time, it has been critical to keep the application process as simple as possible.

We’ve also learned that having multilingual applications is critical for outreach. Initially, we only had an English application, which left out a whole segment of the population. Later, we created mortgage and rent applications in Spanish, which better reflect the diversity of our city.


Erin spoke about the Housing Partnership’s ERAP-CLT work at Neighborworks’ CORES platform in a May 5, 2020 webinar titled, “Developing and Launching a Rental Assistance program.” You can view her presentation here. Learn more about the Housing Partnership’s services and response to COVID-19 here.