Rental assistance is historically one of the most effective tools to help keep at-risk families and individuals stably housed. In a system where local emergency shelters are consistently over capacity, rapid rehousing with rental assistance is a critical strategy to forestall homelessness. However a key element in families’ likelihood to succeed is Solid Ground’s personalized case management approach – building trust and customizing support to meet people where they are – especially as the pandemic piles on additional stress points.
“Out of all the families we serve, no two are the same,” explains Victoria Meissner, longtime Solid Ground JourneyHome/Rapid Rehousing (JHRRH) Case Manager. During the first six months of the pandemic, the 81 families housed worked with case managers to identify the specific details in the domino effect behind their housing barriers and how to overcome them.
Navigating the shortage of affordable housing in King County is a daunting task for individuals to overcome without widespread community support. The snowballing cost of move-in fees, past debt, and eviction proceedings are all obstacles case managers work to alleviate – including negotiating high costs and debt down to more manageable amounts, and mitigating concerns about past evictions.
Cascading impacts of eviction
Evictions are especially heinous barriers – red flags for most landlords. Once filed with the court, even when resolved between the two parties, they continue to live on in credit and housing records, leading to rejected housing applications and denied public housing assistance. The 2018 Losing Home report (1) found that evictions in Seattle – due to lost income, medical emergencies and hospitalization, domestic violence, and the rigidity of leases – are largely concentrated on a small population of people.
Women are more likely to be evicted over small amounts of money, making up 81% of single-tenant household cases where the tenant owed $100 or less. Almost 52% of tenants in eviction filings identified as people of color, with 31% identifying as Black. This ultimately exacerbates the wage discrepancy that women, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, other people of color), and other marginalized communities face, so that people are left owing money and unable to save for upcoming expenses.
The 2020 Out of Reach report (2) shows that renting a modest two-bedroom apartment in Washington State requires an hourly wage of $30.46, so many people are effectively priced out of even affordable housing. And the pandemic has reduced employment options, moving the goal post of self-sufficiency farther back for JHRRH program participants. As a result, JHRRH Case Managers are in constant problem-solving mode, often figuring out the solutions to problems as they unravel in real time.
As JHRRH Case Manager Nicole Carbine puts it, “There’s usually a hidden thing.” Case managers typically help families find the language for their problems before they can help solve them – from naming patterns of domestic violence to refocusing families’ goals from immediate needs to long-term ones. In the myriad competing priorities families face, traumas from previous instances of homelessness, abandonment, and other destructive life patterns exacerbate and compound hurdles. Nicole says, “Success is usually a relational piece – them trusting you a little bit more, then trusting the system a little bit more.”
Extra pressures on parents
As the pandemic stretches on, parents in the program must also expend an immense amount of energy responding to the school, social, and emotional needs of their children. Even before the pandemic started, the State’s capacity to provide licensed childcare options only covered about 41% of children under the age of 5 and left an additional 550,000 children under 12 without access. As of August, 18% of Washington’s childcare facilities are still closed (3), leaving parents to make up the difference while being cut off from crucial services.
Learning new technology skills to keep from falling behind in school means that many “adults in this situation are also kind of going back to school as well,” Nicole notes. Sidney Williams, Landlord Engagement Specialist, underscores that surmounting stress can trigger a pattern of distraction where participants “can get frozen in something that’s troubling them when they’re supposed to be applying to housing.”
Building case management trust is key
Trained in trauma-informed care, harm reduction, and motivational interviewing, JHRRH Case Managers offer perspective, support, flexibility, and knowledge to people engulfed in the overwhelming task of getting through each day. Ultimately, while rental assistance funds keep folks housed, the connection program participants experience with JHRRH staff is the compelling force helping them achieve their goals and find stability beyond the program. Sidney, who works with families to identify sustainable living arrangements, finds landlords are also more confident renting to JHRRH participants because they are engaged in longer partnerships.
For families experiencing increased isolation, reduced public services, and an incredible amount of uncertainty, affordable housing should be the least of their worries. With JourneyHome/Rapid Rehousing support, families can heal and turn the roofs over their heads into stable homes.
For more info on Solid Ground’s JourneyHome/Rapid Rehousing program, contact Stabilization Services Director Shannon Rae, firstname.lastname@example.org.