In the first week since Governor Charlie Baker ordered the shutdown on non-essential business, Housing Assistance Corporation has received a dramatic influx of calls and emails asking for urgent assistance. The agency has established the Workforce Housing Relief Fund to respond to an anticipated prolonged increase in local need for housing support.
Calls requesting financial assistance with rent were up nearly 250% during the past seven days compared to the previous week. And calls requesting help with foreclosure prevention are up 400% during the month of March over the average month of requests. Housing Assistance has redeployed some of its staff to help shore up its frontline intake counselors who respond to client requests via phone and email.
Clients seeking access to services are asked to either call 508-771-5400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
“Even before the COVID-19 health crisis, our workforce faced a housing crisis – a lack of housing options that are affordable for the wages people earn on Cape Cod and the Islands,” said Alisa Magnotta, CEO of Housing Assistance.
The agency’s intake counselors work with hundreds of people each month asking for help and those numbers are climbing due to the pandemic. Counselors ensure that clients take advantage of every available financial relief resource that is available from their lenders, the state and federal government before applying money from the fund.
“As the agency administering many of the state and federal housing assistance programs, we know that there are many people who fall just outside the limited criteria of these government programs who still cannot afford rent or a mortgage in our region. The current pandemic is exacerbating this problem. Many people do not have room in their extremely tight budgets to absorb a loss of wages or increased expenses. That’s why we established the Workforce Relief Fund,” said Magnotta. “It’s never been more important for people to have a safe, stable place to call home.”
Housing counselors are following the rapidly evolving landscape of lender and government assistance programs, however many people’s housing expenses will not be fully covered, even if a person does receive unemployment benefits. Examples of gaps in coverage that clients are reporting include:
- Clients report being unable to successfully submit unemployment claims either because the benefit for their particular circumstance is not yet available or systems are overloaded.
- Many furloughed workers must now pay entirely for their family’s health insurance out-of-pocket because employer contributions to their health insurance has stopped.
- Many Cape and Islanders make their annual budgets work by combining seasonal and part-time jobs with their year-round employment. Many seasonal businesses are delaying their openings indefinitely.
Housing Assistance has modeled the Workforce Housing Relief Fund on the state RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition) program. RAFT is only available for households that typically make 50% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI). The Workforce Housing Relief Fund will cover households making between 50% and 100% AMI who are still unable to maintain stable housing without help.
Before the coronavirus crisis, Housing Assistance’s RAFT program supported up to 16 households per month at a cost of $50,000 with an average of roughly $3,200 per household. Payments are made directly to the lender or landlord to ensure they are used as intended.
In just the last three days, Housing Assistance received 35 initial inquiries about assistance, 33 of which were related to COVID-19. At this rate, Housing Assistance anticipates the need to raise at least an additional $100,000 per month over the next six months to help our workforce remain safely and stably housed and recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic. Individual donations to the Workforce Housing Relief Fund will be 100% pass-through to pay for client’s housing. These donations will be added to contributions from towns and foundations to create one coordinated housing relief fund.