FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 8, 2021
CONTACT: Andrew Bradley | (317) 222-1221 x403| firstname.lastname@example.org
‘All of Government Approach’ that includes community engagement key to increasing effectiveness of Indiana’s Emergency Rental Assistance Programs
INDIANAPOLIS – With the CDC’s eviction moratorium ended as of August 26, it is now more critical than ever for Indiana’s state and local policymakers to expedite distribution of Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) funds to the renters, landlords, and communities who need them most. The Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition calls on Indiana to engage an ‘All-of-Government Approach’ to prevent evictions and the long-term economic and public health damage they cause. This approach must include the coordination of state and local administrations, courts, and legislative bodies working together with each other and local partners to provide the outreach and assistance necessary to prevent evictions. In this release, the Coalition identifies key tools and steps for community engagement for ERA programs and government entities necessary to engage with local and statewide partners to provide resources to effectively and efficiently get funds out the door to the hardest-hit Hoosiers.
Recently-available outcome data from Indiana’s seven ERA programs shows that 17,899 Hoosier households have been assisted by these programs statewide. However, a new estimate from the National Equity Atlas’ Rent Debt Dashboard estimates 93,000 Hoosier households that include approximately 84,000 children are behind on rent and at risk of eviction. The dashboard also estimates that 83% of Hoosier renter households in arrears have not yet applied for rental assistance. Among Indiana’s estimated households behind on rent, 92% are low-income, 55% have children, and 52% are currently unemployed, while 37% are Hoosiers of color. These estimates not only illustrate the need for additional proactive outreach, but the data points to the Hoosiers and communities most in need of that assistance.
The Coalition found that, for every Hoosier household served by one of Indiana’s ERA programs, more than five households are estimated to be behind on rent and at risk of eviction. Among the 10 counties with the highest rates of ERA distribution, four are served by locally-administered ERA programs; seven are served by the Indiana Emergency Rental Assistance Program (IERA), which covers all areas not served by one of the six locally administered programs. The City of Fort Wayne ERA and IERA both serve Allen County. Download the data for all Indiana counties.
While the counties with the highest proportion of households assisted span large urban and suburban to smaller counties and are served both by state- and locally-administered programs, the counties with the lowest proportion of households served tend to be among Indiana’s smallest and most rural. The counties with a higher percentage of their at-risk households served by ERA programs (whether state- or locally-administered) likely have more pre-existing community networks and relationships between ERA programs and community-based organizations working on targeted outreach, processing applications, and connections to wraparound services. For example, La Porte County, which has served the largest proportion of households covered by IERA, has assisted 422 households, or one household for every 3.2 of the county’s estimated 1,354 rental households in arrears. In addition, the County has elected to use a portion of their American Rescue Plan Act local fiscal recovery funds to create the La Porte County Rental Assistance Program in a partnership between the County and Township Trustees. However, the counties that have seen the lowest proportion of households served by ERA programs, compared to the estimated need, are nearly all among the state’s smallest and most rural counties with the least capacity to absorb a wave of additional evictions and homelessness.
A Step-by-Step Guide for ERA programs to target aid and resources for community partners
One way to get the ‘biggest bang for the ERA buck’ is for ERA programs to target areas with the highest proportion of the hardest hit and underserved populations and to partner with community organizations on outreach, application assistance, and administration of funds. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, paired with mapping tools like those from the Urban Institute and Google Earth, can help ERA program administrators pinpoint where to seek partnerships and efficiently serve the greatest number of vulnerable families. The following is a step-by-step guide for one way to accomplish this.
To do this, first decide what group you want to target. One way to accomplish this is by using Census Bureau data. In a July 2020 blog post, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition identified Indiana’s Census tracts with the highest proportion of housing cost-burdened residents, meaning those who spend more than 30% of income on housing. This can be found on the Census Bureau website by searching for “Gross Rent as a Percentage of Income”. Housing cost burden is also a key indicator of households at risk of eviction. In order to target and increase equitable program take-up, include areas with the highest proportion of BIPOC residents. Likewise, the Census Bureau provides data for geographies smaller than the county level to identify where there are the most children in poverty, among other variables. Once you have decided on the groups you want to reach out to, you can find data on the Census Bureau website. We used Census Tracts, but if you don’t have experience with mapping tools, searching by ZIP code may be a more accessible method. Once you have a Census table for the variable you are searching, you can then filter by geography. You can sort this data and pinpoint out the exact geographies where it makes the most sense to build partnerships and outreach efforts to meet your program goals.
An alternative to using Census data is to utilize the Urban Institute’s tool Where to Prioritize Emergency Rental Assistance to Keep Renters in Their Homes. This tool will allow users to quickly identify the number of extremely low income renters in a neighborhood, with a priority index based on housing instability, COVID-19 impact, and equity metrics.
Once you know the geographic areas you want to focus on, you can use Google Maps, Google Earth, or the GIS tool of your choice to search these geographies for partners. You can do a search for types of partners or you can just open the map and look at what is there so that you don’t miss anything. Partners to look for are community-based organizations, churches, libraries, schools, community centers, township trustees, large apartment complexes, small claims courts, event venues. These are examples of the kinds of organizations necessary to form partnerships for effective communication, outreach, and administration of ERA resources.
The example below shows ZIP code 46409 where 56% of renters are housing cost burdened. You can see in the maps below that this ZIP code has many churches, schools, career centers, child care, and a post office, with an apartment complex just outside. Each of these entities could be potential partners for ERA program staff to assist with outreach, applications, and administration of program resources and services. Having a knowledgeable lead partner or core team for each targeted county, neighborhood, or ZIP code will help program administrators navigate relationships with individual organizations.
Examples of potential partners found in ZIP code 46409 using Google Earth
Source: Hoosier Housing Needs analysis using Census Bureau data and Google Earth
To reach the most vulnerable populations with the greatest need for emergency rental assistance, ERA administrators must engage community partners.
To engage in community partnerships, ERA administrators should connect with local community based organizations, churches, and other groups who work closely with renters in need of assistance. Best practices include:
- Identify key community stakeholders in your community and create opportunities for organizations to join program administrators as lead partners or core team members to delegate the work of getting funds out the door. Community development corporations, community centers, and other nonprofits are examples of the types of organizations that may have the capacity to distribute ERA funds at a micro level.
- Create a toolkit that specifically frames how small organizations can support ERA programs by assisting with applications, providing direct outreach and connecting with renters that need ERA funds, and providing marketing and/or communications support to spread the word about available ERA funds (including translating application materials into different languages to reach those that need translations).
- Engage landlords with communications that are designed to encourage landlord participation in the program, including any incentives for using the program, timeline for receiving funds, an outline of necessary documentation, and guidelines for program follow up.
- Create a framework for organizations that provides guidelines for how to distribute funds, including state and federal guidelines for emergency rental assistance in addition to local options for enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the ERA program.
- Additional strategies from the Urban Institute to leverage behavioral science to expedite ERA distribution and build racial equity into ERA programs and community engagement are also available.
To be effective, community partners working with ERA programs must have adequate resources.
Many community partners who serve and best know the populations at high risk of evictions are themselves overextended and understaffed after a year-and-a-half of COVID-19 triage. Fortunately, there are millions of dollars that ERA program administrators can use to add capacity for partnerships, including:
- Up to 10% of ERA1 funds or $44.8M of the $447.9M allocated across seven Indiana ERA programs, can be used for “administrative costs attributable to providing financial assistance and housing stability services to eligible households”. These costs may include contracting with multiple local community-based organizations or agencies to conduct targeted outreach in neighborhoods to assist renters in completing ERA applications. For example, the Columbus OH Stable Housing Initiative 2021 has issued a Request For Proposals with the purpose “to find and award funding to organizations who are able to provide outreach, intake, rental and utility assistance, and supportive services to hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations experiencing housing instability.”
- Under ERA2, up to 15%, or $53.1 of the additional $354.4M in ERA2 funds that Indiana will receive, can be used for the administrative costs above, plus eviction prevention services. However, subrecipients (including community partners) are not limited in the percentages spent on administrative costs, so long as the ERA programs’ total administrative costs remain under the threshold.
- In addition, up to 10% of both ERA1 and ERA2 funds (a total of $80.2M allocated to Indiana’s ERA programs) can be used for certain ‘housing stability services’. According to Treasury FAQ, allowed housing services “include those that enable eligible households to maintain or obtain housing. Such services may include, among other things, eviction prevention and eviction diversion programs; mediation between landlords and tenants; housing counseling; fair housing counseling; housing navigators or promotoras that help households access ERA programs or find housing; case management related to housing stability; housing-related services for survivors of domestic abuse or human trafficking; legal services or attorney’s fees related to eviction proceedings and maintaining housing stability; and specialized services for individuals with disabilities or seniors that support their ability to access or maintain housing.” And unlike ERA1 funds, for ERA2 these services do not have to be directly related to the COVID-19 outbreak, thus providing additional flexibility for community partnerships for pre-existing and longer-term needs.
- In addition, up to 15% of the state’s $167.9M for Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) can be used for Community Engagement with partners. For example, Ohio’s proposed HAF plan calls for “engaging with these organizations to go door-to-door in neighborhoods with high concentrations of eligible homeowners who are at-risk of foreclosure, which will include saturating neighborhoods and communities that have significant populations of socially disadvantaged individuals”. In Indiana, these areas likely include large overlap with at-risk renter households, and the ‘saturating’ door-to-door activities should include information about HAF, ERA, as well as landlord-tenant rights, nutrition and workforce wraparound services, etc.
- The U.S. Treasury Department has also published examples of promising practices for partnerships from ERA programs nationwide and updated guidance that includes more explicit permissions for state and local programs to establish partnerships and cut down on delays. With these tools and examples, Indiana’s ERA programs can use resources already on the table to work hand-in-hand with partners on the ground to increase the distribution of rental assistance to the most vulnerable Hoosiers and communities.
Conclusion: an ‘All of Government’ strategy must be employed proportionate to the need to enact long-term solutions to Indiana’s housing crisis
Housing, including concerns about paying rent, mortgage, and utility expenses, continues to be among Hoosiers’ top COVID-19 related concerns, according to public agency and community services data. Preventing evictions and housing instability should therefore be a top priority of Indiana’s policymakers at every level of government proportionate to this need. In addition to the steps for community engagement outlined here, an ‘All of Government’ response should include the creation of a Housing Stability Taskforce, first recommended by the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition in July 2020. This task force should include representatives from housing providers, affordable housing and homeless service organizations, and community services with on-the-ground experience to advise a coordinated COVID-19 housing policy response and connect public, private, and philanthropic resources statewide. Such a task force would help ensure all of Indiana’s ERA programs are visible, accessible, and preventive and provide long-term solutions for the state’s pre-existing housing stability and affordability crisis.
 As of the date of publication, the most recent publicly available data for Indiana’s six locally-administered ERA programs is from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Emergency Rental Assistance Monthly Compliance Report: July 1- 31, 2021 while the most recent publicly-available data for the Indiana Emergency Rental Assistance Program (IERA), covering the balance of the state, comes from the Indiana Emergency Rental Assistance Progress Report published August 30, 2021.
About the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition:
Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition (HHNC) was formed by members of Indiana’s housing security advocacy community in April 2020 to support advocacy and education related to housing and homelessness prevention in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Staffed by Prosperity Indiana through advocacy and coalition building grants from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Central Indiana Community Foundation, HHNC convenes partners from across Indiana to advocate for immediate, medium- and long-term housing stability policy solutions and conduct education and research to achieve federal, state, and local policies for an equitable response and recovery to the pandemic and beyond.
The HHNC Steering Committee is comprised of members from AARP Indiana, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention (CHIP), Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis, Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Indiana Institute for Working Families – INCAA, Prosperity Indiana, and The Ross Foundation.