As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the U.S., an economic crisis emerged. We saw millions of Americans become unemployed, having to shelter at home, and as a result were faced with housing instability. CHN Housing Partners was selected to stand up during this time, and manage our local CARES Act Eviction Prevention program. Through managing this program, I have seen first-hand the devastation that housing insecurity brings for individuals and families who are already on the brink of crisis. In unprecedented times like these, one might expect to see different demographic profiles equally impacted. Unfortunately, CHN still saw the African American community hit hardest, comprising 80% of our CARES program applicants – a long-term effect of being shut out from homeownership in the Cleveland area and all others that CHN serves.
During this time, I was grateful for the variety of resources supporting lasting homeownership strategies that we were able to access through Grounded Solutions Network. Since becoming a HomeKeeper user in 2017, CHN has used the app as our engine. During the pandemic, we continued to use HomeKeeper to expand our capacity and ability to deliver our integrated services platform in profound ways.
In June 2020, CHN Housing Partners was selected to lead and implement the CARES Act Rental Assistance Relief program throughout the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. With the local eviction moratorium set to be lifted on June 30th 2020, we knew we had to act quickly to create a program eligibility tool that could be implemented easily and quickly.
In just 2 weeks, the CHN team developed and deployed a crisis intervention program to deliver the CARES Rental Assistance program to our county. We rolled out this program alongside multiple partner agencies, with full collaboration and data-sharing.
Our program eligibility tool allowed CHN to:
- Receive CARES applications electronically, while accommodating those that are digitally challenged
- Coordinate and mediate with landlords while collecting required verifications
- Approve and send assistance checks to thousands of vendors
Fortunately, we were not alone in our efforts, as the vendors, landlords and others involved created an ecosystem of community partners to serve as referral agencies. However, we knew simple referrals would not be enough. A higher level of partnership and coordination was needed for the collaborative to work effectively.
We had a great platform in place, utilizing HomeKeeper’s Service File income eligibility structure. From this, we quickly developed an online application that our partners could direct folks to. This online application integrated directly with Salesforce via Form Assembly. We clearly documented applicants’ stage in the process, and what was necessary to move them to the next juncture – all as program guidelines and tactics changed. We took it a step further by entering into data-sharing agreements with our eager partners, which allowed us to open our Salesforce instance on a read-only but collaborative basis. Now our partners could get real-time information about their referred applicants. This meant they could directly assist CARES program applicants from eligibility determination to approval, whether they were working with tenants, landlords or both.
We also created custom data-sharing portals with our funders, so they too could receive real-time information, reimbursement reports and demographic breakdowns. This enabled us to think strategically and make programmatic adjustments to increase the efficiency, capacity and impact of our rental assistance program.
CHN already had the structure of HomeKeeper’s Homeownership Feature Set, complete with our customizations, in place. The combination of robust, targeted data-sharing and collaboration resulted in CHN Housing Partners successfully dispersing all funds before their expiration. In addition, we committed to dispersing $3 million one month later, allowing us to serve over 1,000 more applicants in need. The CHN Team is now preparing for a new round of funding, via the American Rescue Plan Act, expanding capacity to meet the continued need until the pandemic is under control, and the economy is able to stabilize.
By Tom Tosuksri, Director of Service Integration at CHN Housing Partners.
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