Housing, utility assistance needed throughout the community as pandemic continues

As our community continues moving forward through the coronavirus pandemic, some local households continue to struggle with making ends meet to cover essential needs, such as rent and utility payments.

On Aug. 20, the Neighborhood Housing Partnership of Greater Springfield (NHP) opened the application process for Springfield residents to apply for assistance with rent, utilities or both.

“The purpose is to keep people in their homes, to prevent homelessness, and focus specifically on people who have had financial hardships caused by COVID-19,” NHP’s Homeowner Center Manager Kerri Brammer says. “It’s CARES Act money so it does have to have that COVID impact as the hardship.”

This week – Wednesday, Sept. 16 – marked the first Springfield residents to receive the aid.

“It’s primarily people who had a job, and the job was either totally eliminated due to COVID or the hours were so reduced they ended up getting supplemental unemployment,” Brammer says. “And they got by on the umemployment and the extra $600, but now all that’s over … so they’re wondering ‘What am I going to do?’”

Depending on needs, the assistance can be provided for up to three months, she says. It is limited to renters and can only be approved for homes within the Springfield city limits because it is city funding.

Since applications opened about a month ago, about 65 families have applied for assistance, and Brammer says more keep rolling in “fast and furious” because so many people need support right now.

In addition to providing this financial support to help families get by in the next few months, she says the NHP provides tenants receiving assistance with financial coaching.

“That’s the value added. We’re hoping that instead of just giving the money – we don’t want it just to be a band-aid. We want them to be able to be successful after that and we’re trying to figure out how to help them after this so they don’t just end up in the same situation,” Brammer says.

The coaching, she says, helps tenants brainstorm ways to increase their current income – such as cutting cable or other extra bills – and plan for what steps to take to feel more financially stable when their assistance funding stops.

She also pointed out how fortunate people are locally to have such a wide variety of resources available from organizations that offer all kinds of support, including job coaching, counseling, and more. NHP tries to help connect tenants with these local organizations that might be able to help them.

Brammer says if someone needs assistance and isn’t sure if they’ll qualify, they should reach out to the NHP. Application are available online through NHP or residents can receive applications by mail by calling the NHP office at (937) 322-4623.

Local residents are also receiving support from the United Way of Clark, Champaign and Madison Counties.

“When the pandemic hit, it was evident that there would be significant needs resulting from layoffs, unemployment, and the growing number of individuals and families that needed to quarantine because of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, says Kerry Pedraza, executive director of the United Way of Clark, Champaign and Madison Counties.

Homelessness has increased 50 percent from the same time last year. And, while there were no families on a waiting list for local shelters at this time last year, more than 20 were waiting for shelter at the end of August 2020, Pedraza says.

Between ongoing donations to the local United Way’s COVID-19 Community Fund – which has collected more than $150,000 – and a recent $25,000 donation from Columbia Gas, United Way has been able to help address some rent and utility issues.

United Way has supported more than 100 people who have needed quarantine assistance.

"Here’s a huge need in addition to the tremendous need we already have. We needed assistance with a select group of people being asked to quarantine or were waiting to see if they tested positive. So for those people, we need to make sure they’re not leaving their home to go to work because all that does is spread (the virus),” Pedraza says. “So what we’ve been trying to do as soon as possible is put a band-aid on it so they feel comfortable being able to stay at home and not go out and expose others. These are people that traditionally have a job, but their employer may not be paying them during their time off.”

Pedraza says she couldn’t imagine how much case numbers of COVID-19 in Clark County would have increased if this quarantine assistance wasn’t able to be provided.

The ongoing donations – both smaller individuals donations and larger corporate support like the funding from Columbia Gas – are crucial to United Way continuing to provide housing and utility assistance that far outreach typical needs.

“Our community was most fortunate to have significant and generous donors contribute to the COVID-19 Fund, but it is clear that these needs will be ongoing for many, many months,” Pedraza says.

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.