Quarter 4 2020, Volume 8 Issue 4

Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority: Helping Tenants During COVID-19

Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority (BCRHA)’s goal is to assist the households of Berkshire County, MA in securing the skills, knowledge, and resources necessary to achieve self-sufficiency and stability. Many of the agency’s clients are tenants looking for rental counseling. BCRHA’s seasoned housing counselors Meghan Blauvelt and Christin Prue have a few tips and lessons learned to share about providing effective rental counseling to tenants during COVID-19.

Leverage Technology in Housing Counseling

BCRHA has traditionally offered remote counseling, so while Meghan and Christin are comfortable counseling their clients over the phone, the transition to working from home full-time has been a new challenge. Meghan and Christin recommend counselors:

  • Ask clients detailed and open-ended follow-up questions when counseling over the phone to make sure counselors fully understand their clients’ situations. For example, ask clients:
    • What are your housing concerns?
    • What would you like to accomplish through housing counseling?
    • How do you feel about your current housing situation?
  • Utilize technology platforms allowing counselors to connect directly with their clients through their cell phones via voice calls and text. Ensure clients understand how to reach their counselors directly. Many of Meghan and Christin’s clients have preferred texting to voice calls or emails.
  • Gather signatures electronically. Although BCRHA previously collected all signatures on paper, electronic signatures have helped maintain operations during the national emergency. More information about electronic signatures is available on the Housing Counseling Technology page.

BCRHA Housing Counselors Meghan Blauvelt and Christin Prue

BCRHA Housing Counselors Meghan Blauvelt and Christin Prue

Counsel Tenants to Achieve Success in During COVID-19

Meghan and Christin focus on helping tenants stay positive when working through situations with their landlords. Many landlords in the Berkshire County area are trying to navigate paying their mortgages during the national emergency, while tenants are struggling to pay rent.

Meghan and Christin have often seen their rental counseling clients become stressed and unresponsive to communication because their housing situation is in jeopardy. They work with their clients and emphasize the importance of maintaining good communication with their landlords. They coach them in discussing payment plans, move-out dates, and temporary rental reductions.

Meghan recently helped a client work through safety concerns during COVID-19 which ultimately allowed the client to remain in her apartment. The client had concerns shared common space during the national emergency. After Meghan helped her client come up with strategies to communicate with her landlord, Meghan’s client and her landlord agreed on a mutual solution. The tenant was happy with the outcome and did not have to sacrifice her relationship with her landlord to achieve it. Most importantly, she was able to stay in her home.

Christin always tells her clients to ask her as many questions as they can in case BCRHA can assist their clients with additional rental topics. One of Christin’s clients recently came to BCRHA seeking information on financial assistance. After speaking with her client, Christin realized the tenant’s apartment also had some safety and habitability concerns. BCRHA was able to help the tenant contact the Board of Health to repair the issues.

“Everyone is in this together. If a tenant is struggling to pay rent, their landlord is likely also struggling to pay their mortgage, so any amount that a tenant can continue to pay toward their rent is a positive step forward. Show tenants how they can move forward and maintain their relationship with their landlord when the national emergency is over.”

– Meghan and Christin

Above all, Meghan and Christin emphasize being a logical voice of reason for tenants during rental counseling. If tenants know all their options, they feel empowered to have successful conversations with their landlords.