By David M. Dworkin
For most housers, the past six months have felt chaotic and stressful. Nonprofits are stretching resources to serve incredible demand. Homeless service providers are rushing to keep at-risk individuals sheltered. Mortgage lenders, servicers and housing counselors are trying to help households preserve their homeownership. Renters and property managers are balancing operating costs, rent payment and ad hoc eviction moratoriums. And housing organizations are tirelessly advocating for the needs of all stakeholders and the stability of the U.S. housing market.
At the onset of all of this in March and April, NHC knew housers would be facing challenges like we’ve never before seen, as a public health crisis turned into an economic crisis, worsening an existing housing affordability crisis. In thinking about what our industry would need to successfully navigate this environment, we decided to create our COVID-19 Housing Resource Center
We pivoted our resources, took on new team members and engaged a web design company to create a centralized location for all housers to easily search for and find the resources they need and the answers to their questions. Six months later, the resource center has seen more than 58,000 visitors and has become a tool to not only provide information to housers, but also to gain insights into which housing issues are affecting consumers across the country.
Just a few weeks ago we set up a form that pops up when a new user visits the site. We’ve already received more than 1,000 responses to the form, which asks visitors to indicate their area of interest, choosing from: rent assistance, mortgage assistance, homeless outreach, multifamily, single-family and property management. The results were alarming, but not necessarily surprising. Over 90% of our visitors said they needed help finding rental assistance – indeed a cry for help for all housing stakeholders and most importantly Congress to take overdue action to provide federal rental assistance. The majority of the roughly 950 renters we heard from live in Florida, Texas, California, Illinois and Georgia.
In response to this overwhelming need and traffic from consumers, we’ve built out our resources for renters and homeowners in addition to the more than 1,000 individual resources we’ve compiled for housing decision-makers. The content spans the entire housing spectrum, from nonprofits to single-family lending, renters, homeowners, homeless service providers, multifamily finance and property management. Resources our team collects are not only updated on a weekly basis, but also reflect the most pressing developments in housing at any given time – whether it’s how states are interpreting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) eviction moratorium or the status of stimulus legislation in Congress.
There’s no shortage of questions confronting housers and consumers alike in this “new normal” we find ourselves in. To help you get the answers you’re looking for, we’ve compiled more than 360 frequently asked questions
on our site. We’ve also stayed in close contact with housing organizations working on the frontlines to serve individuals and families across the country. To date, we’ve profiled six organizations in our best practices
section to share the lessons learned and successes of housers that – just like you – have devoted the past six months to responding to COVID-19.
We’ve also recognized that as many housers invest the bulk of their time and energy into providing quality and safe housing and shelter, we may not be doing enough to support our own health and well-being. That’s why we created our Oxygen Mask Rule
page. This nod to the popular pre-flight guidance (“in the event of an emergency, please put on your oxygen mask before assisting others”), offers more than 100 resources to help you manage your mental health, including guided meditations, tips for parenting during a pandemic, stress relief exercises and more.
In addition to providing this tremendous resource, we wanted to share with you some of the insights we’ve gained from the average 4,500+ unique users the site sees each week. These users have helped NHC stay abreast of where and who needs help. In addition to the feedback we received around the need for rental assistance, we’ve noticed that visitors appear to be concentrated amongst five states. Visitors to the site living in California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois have consistently represented a majority of the traffic. This provides further insight into the areas of the country that are experiencing the most instability due to COVID-19.
Our work is far from over. As our COVID-19 Housing Resource Center continues to grow and evolve, NHC plans to use what we’re hearing – in terms of regional traffic, engagement and areas of interest – to inform housers, policymakers and lawmakers of how and where more help is needed. As we continue to forge ahead beside you, we remain committed to providing fellow housers with the tools, resources and insights they need.
David Dworkin is president and CEO of the National Housing Conference