Quarter 3 2020, Volume 8 Issue 3

MSHDA: Meeting Clients Needs During COVID-19

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s (MSHDA) mission is to provide quality affordable housing to support diverse, thriving communities where people have the foundation to reach their full potential. For more than 17 years, MSHDA has partnered with HUD in the delivery of a robust and high-quality housing counseling program. MSHDA currently has 22 HUD-approved sub-grantees bringing housing counseling services to nearly all 83 counties in Michigan.

MSHDA’s Housing Education Program agencies have been submitting weekly service numbers since the Michigan Stay at Home order was enacted on March 15, 2020. Since that time, their network of agencies has served more than 10,000 clients, a significant increase from clients served in a typical year in the mid-March to mid-May timeframe. The largest number of requests received were for rental counseling services and financial literacy education.

Educating Michigan families about the rental eviction moratorium has been and continues to be a huge priority. “We have heard from many of our agencies that renters are facing eviction notices from their landlords due to rental delinquencies. It is important that our residents know the laws protecting them, and it is because of this that we see an uptick in the rental counseling requests,” said Carol Brito, MSHDA Program & Business Development Manager.

MSHDA also offers holistic support to its network by holding weekly conference calls during the COVID-19 national emergency providing constant state updates and support. These calls feature presentations from more experienced housing counseling staff to mentor newer counselors and connect agencies for support.

Most of Michigan is rural, and this often brings many challenges to ensuring equitable access to receive housing counseling services. For example, many families do not have access to public transportation, broadband internet, or cell phone service.

Community Action Agency (CAA) Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency, Inc. (NMCAA)

CAA in Jackson, MI has been providing housing counseling services to residents of Jackson, Hillsdale, and Lenawee counties since 2002. To effectively reach clients, CAA offers online education and counseling services when mobility is limited. CAA has also been offering specialized virtual classes in response to the COVID-19 crisis for rental, homeownership, and financial programming.

“Self-sufficiency must be addressed by a comprehensive plan that addresses all barriers and opportunities. If a resident does not have a computer, CAA has been able to provide them with a tablet and a limited number of hotspots for them to use. However, if no hotspots are available, collaborations with community partners have been established. Residents of our rural communities can also utilize the free internet service provided by the United Way of Lenawee County or the Hillsdale Public Library. Both have set up internet service in their parking lots, where residents can stay safe in their car and log into the internet as a drive-in housing counseling service. This is especially helpful for those who need to apply and validate their unemployment benefits,” said Tami Farnum, CAA’s Program Operations Manager.

NMCAA in Traverse City, MI, has been working to communicate effectively with their rural clients during COVID-19. Karen Emerson, NMCAA’s Financial Management Services Manager, shares “since the service area is largely rural, marketing and outreach to the target population takes a lot of collaborative effort from staff, partner organizations, and community members by using Public Service Announcements in local media outlets, radio and TV spots, social media, staff attendance at community events, and word of mouth.”

NMCAA has been tailoring its services in response to the COVID-19 crisis, including offering a Facebook Live series called Wealthy Wednesdays. “NMCAA currently provides virtual rental coaching, including budget review, cost analysis, and housing locator reference materials. In addition, we help clean up credit matters that pose barriers to renting. We are here to help our customers strive to break the cycle of poverty by building assets through coaching, education, and program development every day. Now more than ever, we are needed to help our neighbors from falling through the cracks during this pandemic,” said Karen Emerson.

MSHDA employee standing in front of a car for curbside check in

MSHDA staff using a tablet for socially distant check-ins at the client’s car

MSHDA’s COVID-19 Preparation

The COVID-19 national emergency brought additional housing and economic challenges for Michigan residents which increased the request for services received by their network’s counseling agencies. MSHDA recently delivered a two-part Disaster Relief Housing Counseling place-based training to their network of agencies, which helped contribute to their network’s advanced preparation and ability to immediately deliver services remotely without delay.