Bring on the Millennials! East Greenwich HA Partners With AmeriCorps
The East Greenwich Housing Authority (EGHA) wins a 2019 Award of Excellence in Administrative Innovation for becoming an AmeriCorps host site to provide more administrative support for their residents. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.
East Greenwich is a small waterfront suburban community. The average annual household income for families is over $96,000, making it one of the most affluent areas in Rhode Island. The East Greenwich Housing Authority (EGHA) houses primarily elderly and disabled residents in one-bedroom apartments and oversees a small but growing family housing program. Their affordable housing options for families with children have increased from 28 units and over 80 vouchers in 1996 to an additional 27 units and an average of 123 leased vouchers in 2018. This growth over the years provides greater housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families with children in a town that offers many advantages, including some of the highest performing public schools in the state, a low crime rate, extensive department of parks and recreation programs and more.
As happens in many small public housing agencies, the staffing levels at EGHA did not grow with their expanding housing supply. In order to meet their residents' varied needs, EGHA worked with the Rhode Island AmeriCorps program to become an AmeriCorps Host Site and engage a member placement for their administrative staff.
AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs and is made up of three primary programs that take a different approach to improve lives and fostering civic engagement. In early 2018, EGHA was selected as a host site for a half-time member placement through the AmeriCorps Accessing Home program. The program requires a financial commitment on the part of the host agency: $3,750 for a half time placement, a total of 900 hours, which was paid for with revenue from management fees. The sponsoring agency, NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, provided insurance coverage for AmeriCorps members.
AmeriCorps members were trained and professionally certified as Resident Services Coordinators to provide resource referrals, case management, and housing education. Heather Edwards, the trained Accessing Home AmeriCorps member assigned to EGHA, primarily delivered two services:
- Rent RIte: A classroom-based curriculum designed to prepare prospective renters for a successful tenancy and focuses on budgeting, credit, and the lease-up process.
- Back on Track: An eviction prevention program that provides one-on-one coaching and individualized intervention planning to tenants experiencing housing instability.
In addition to providing Rent RIte curriculum for new voucher holders, Heather worked directly with 11 families in the Back on Track program, who were in the eviction process due to unaddressed lease violations. By providing resource referrals and developing problem-solving strategies, Heather helped these families successfully resolve their legal issues with EGHA and avoid eviction.
In addition to these boilerplate responsibilities, Heather also developed resources for both residents and applicants, including a comprehensive resource guide that helps low- and moderate-income families locate assistance for food, clothing, childcare, healthcare, etc. The resource guide is available in the reception area and the EGHA website. Heather also kept the EGHA website and Facebook page up to date with upcoming events for parents and children.
Fostering civic engagement is part of the AmeriCorps mission statement and EGHA is glad that Heather connected with the affordable housing industry early in her career. EGHA is currently seeking a second AmeriCorps Accessing Home placement in order to build on the strong foundation created by Heather; the housing authority has and has budgeted an additional $3,750 for renewing the partnership. Bringing skilled and dedicated young professionals into the housing and community development (HCD) industry benefits all of us.
Public housing and community development agencies are always looking for a way to do more with less in the face of stagnant or declining administrative funding. Small housing agencies are especially strained to deliver programs and services to meet their resident needs. The partnership with AmeriCorps allowed EGHA to do more without shouldering the cost of an additional full-time employee. AmeriCorps’ programmatic emphasis on supporting housing programs and tenant success is a great fit for small public housing authorities. This partnership provides a staffing resource for small housing authorities and exposes service-minded young adults to the HCD industry – a win-win all around.