Rent and the COVID Crisis: Finding the Win-Win

As calls for rent strikes echo across the country, APAH residents and staff are instead are collaborating toward a shared goal:  stable, affordable housing during and after the pandemic.  “We are in this together,” says APAH CEO Nina Janopaul. “We are doing everything in our power to support families and connect them to assistance. At the same time, APAH is advocating for local, state and federal funding to keep low-income families and our properties stable.”

Like so many across the nation, APAH households have been hit hard.  “It’s been alarming to see how quickly in late March and early April how many of our resident had hours reduced or lost employment all together,” said Caroline Jones, APAH’s Director of Resident Services. Not surprising, it is harder and harder to pay rent, as well as pay for food and other essentials. In May, 350 households were $500 or more behind in rent —a 360% increase over a typical month before COVID. “Our top priority is working with families to help each on with what they need now—whether that’s connecting them to unemployment benefits, stimulus checks, emergency rent assistance, food, mental health, and often, all of the above.”

An APAH residents receives donated food during distribution.

Each family’s circumstances are different, over-taxed application systems are difficult and time-consuming to navigate, often there are many “no’s” before you get to “yes”, and for some, particularly those who have moved from job to job, that “yes” never comes. But there are bright spots. Aseel Elborno, one of APAH’s Resident Services team reports that “some of our residents are finally receiving unemployment benefits.”  She began a weekly newsletter of job opportunities and resources that has quickly growing resident following. “Many of our residents work in the hospitality industry and lost their jobs or hours immediately,” notes Aseel.  “We’re now seeing the full effect of the pandemic as their savings run out.”

APAH has adopted a no evictions policy across its affordable portfolio through the end of 2020, postponed scheduled rent increases, and is raising philanthropic funds to help residents weather the pandemic. “Our residents have shown unbelievable resilience and effort,” reports Nina. “By helping them access resources, our families are able to keep food on the table, pay for essentials, and, avoid building up insurmountable debt.”

Working with advocates across the country, APAH is urging support to keep affordable housing stable and growing. “It’s all a connected system,” notes Nina. “The rent residents pay enables landlords to pay their mortgages and maintain their properties. This pandemic has reinforced the dire need for more housing for low-income families—we need to make sure both families and the affordable housing network emerge intact.” APAH is encouraged that federal legislation being considered by Congress could provide additional funding to assist housing providers. “It’s critical that we get this right.” Many communities are also dedicating funds to rental assistance for low income households, providing a lifeline to families.