If you ask Program Assistant Maricela Garcia how it’s going with our rental assistance program, she’ll tell you, “I’m thankful that I can provide support to the families in some way. Families really appreciate our assistance and leave our office with hope.” You see, Maricela and our promotoras are the connection many of our most vulnerable community members have to stabilize their housing. For the past year, the typical family she helps has accumulated up to $20,000 in rent debt. Maricela adds, “They are just so stressed—they can’t sleep at night because they’re worried about getting evicted.” Thankfully, the eviction moratorium has protected many from homelessness this past year. But so much more needs to be done.
The housing crisis has taken a toll on the communities Nuestra Casa serves for years now. Eviction and displacement are a real threat to long-standing families in our community. The pandemic has only served to deepen this crisis, and rent debt is growing at a staggering rate. Rental assistance specifically for COVID-19 was out there. Still, we heard story after story from our community members that it was hard to apply. Many families had trouble completing the complex applications and supplying the required documentation. In particular, the applications were not user-friendly if English isn’t your first language. We heard from our community that they tried to apply but gave up after hitting a few roadblocks.
Fast forward to March 2021. The Federal government supplied $2.6 billion in rental assistance funds to California. California carved out a small percentage of those dollars to support trusted, community-based organizations with deep roots and trust in vulnerable communities that could provide hands-on support to residents, like Nuestra Casa. We applied and were awarded a $52,000 grant to conduct outreach and provide application assistance.
Our promotoras are our first line of support for this work. Promotoras go to community events, our Food Distribution Program, and door-to-door to ensure that community members know the rental support is available. We also have a community hotline community members can call for information and assistance. For individuals and families who need help with the application, our promotoras connect them directly back to our office, where staff members Maricela, Sonia, Francis, and Jessica follow up to determine eligibility. For those eligible, our staff members clearly explain the required documentation and make an appointment for them to come to the office to complete the online application with their support [all with COVID precautions, of course]. The applications are composed of 13 sections, are very detail-oriented, and must be completed online. For people who don’t have access to a computer and WIFI or don’t have the computer literacy to complete the application, Maricela is a lifesaver.
Getting accurate and up-to-date information to our community members to meet their needs has been something that we take pride in/have worked on diligently. Since April, our promotoras have shared flyers with 4,500 residents either through community events or door-to-door canvassing. Our staff members have directly contacted or fielded inquiries from several hundred residents who wanted to learn more about rental assistance. About 70-80% of the people we contact are eligible for rental assistance. So far, we’ve helped 23 families complete their applications. We hope that we can continue to provide this level of service throughout the pandemic.