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Faced with high demand, housing assistance teams use new strategies

Applications for the emergency programs are up 63% since 2019, demonstrating just how much need exists in the community around supporting stable housing.

As program manager for Emergency Assistance (EA), Monique Moore hears the stories from families who apply: Hours at the job were decreased, rent increased, the car broke down and half the utility payment went to fix it to get to work.

“Most times families are trying to make up for income loss elsewhere and are unable to recover financially,” she says.

Applications for Emergency Assistance and Emergency General Assistance (EA and EGA) have increased significantly in 2022 – spiking in July and August as more people faced eviction after the end of the state eviction moratorium and pandemic-related financial assistance. And inflation is higher now than it has been in the past 40 years, impacting people with low incomes the most.

Applications for the emergency programs are up 63% since 2019, demonstrating just how much need exists in the community around supporting stable housing.

Racial disparities are evident in these programs as elsewhere. Although 32% of Hennepin County’s residents are Black, Indigenous or of color, nearly three-quarters of the applicants for EA and EGA are in those racial/cultural categories.

The programs are administered by the county and financed by federal and state general funds. EA is for families with dependent children; EGA is for adults without minor children.

Through these programs, residents who experience an emergency related to housing may be eligible for financial help. Families and individuals must have an income that’s less than twice the Federal Poverty Guideline.

There are many people who qualify – especially now.

“Given market-rate housing increases, utilities, food insecurity and overall inflation – families are relying on this more than ever,” Moore said.

Cindy Fahland, program manager for EGA, sees similar trends for single and married adults. Funds go from EGA to help with payments to prevent eviction or foreclosure, moving expenses, damage deposits and utility shutoffs.

The EGA and EA teams are hiring additional staff to cut down on wait times, but the surge in applications has meant that it takes longer for staff to process them – while still attending to each person’s needs.

Late on a Friday afternoon, one of Fahland’s staff received a call from a resident whose electricity had been turned off. She had to stay with a friend where she could power an electric medical device. It was after hours for the utility service, so the worker Googled every number she could find until she reached someone who could turn the woman’s power back on.

Another resident had to move and was overwhelmed with coordinating payments to her new leasing office and the moving company and applying for EGA while packing. “When she contacted us, the EGA team member could tell that she was feeling overwhelmed,” Fahland said. Over the next few days, the worker helped the resident reach out to the leasing company, guarantee the damage deposit and ensure that her subsidy was confirmed – as well as help the resident find a moving company that could meet her timeline.

County staff are using a variety of strategies to meet people’s needs faster and better during the surge in housing insecurity. For instance, when callers are facing evictions or utility shut-offs within 48 hours, their cases are triaged to be processed the same day.

Other plans try to get ahead of emergencies.

  • An EGA or EA staff member is available at housing court – which has seen an influx of cases since the eviction moratorium ended – to connect with anyone who could be helped to avoid eviction. The EGA and EA team also works with county housing workers and community agencies to eliminate barriers such as security deposits.
  • Pandemic recovery “gap funds” are used selectively to make up the difference between what EGA or EA can pay and the amount needed to house a tenant who’s facing eviction.

Meanwhile, the person-centered assistance coming from the EA and EGA staff offers more than a roof.

Fahland said, “When we partner with our residents, they can focus on other things, like their employment, loved ones or their health.”

This story reflects Hennepin County disparity reduction priorities in health.

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