The Beatles had a hit “With a Little Help from My Friends” from their 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band album. Sung by drummer Ringo Starr (John & Paul always gave Ringo & George a song on their albums), this song became a hit single in 1968 for Joe Cocker and an iconic backdrop for Woodstock. If you ever watch reruns for “The Wonder Years” (Fred Savage was a cute kid), it is the show’s theme song.
Frustration overwhelms rental housing owners/operators as our residents, and we navigate eviction moratoriums, COVID-19, and the myriad of government rules and regulations surrounding rental registration. This confusion and disruption cause us to forget that our residents are more than an apartment number on a rent-roll. Our renters are parents, employees, church members, cancer-survivors, grandparents, community volunteers, little league coaches, artist, musicians, entrepreneurs, teachers, first responders, runners, yoga-instructors, gourmet cooks, military veterans, neighbors, friends—they are real people—and sometimes, they need a little help from their friends.
More than 700,000 Tarrant County residents rent their homes. I am not a math whiz, but that is a lot—not as many records as the Mop Tops from Liverpool sold—but still a lot. Recently, many tenants have struggled to meet their rent payments. AATC members have proactively created payment plans, waived late fees, and helped with job assistance. It has been a challenge for both our residents and for us.
One fund source available to residents is CARE Act rental assistance. If you have residents that need rental assistance, urge them to contact the City of Arlington, City of Fort Worth, and Tarrant County housing officials. You can use the following link to help your residents: https://www.aatcnet.org/coronavirus.html. Even though these monies are available, it has been challenging to secure payments; sometimes, our residents need a little friendly help.
AATC Board member Cayce Coon, Vice President of Operations for Madera Residential, had a Fort Worth property experiencing a significant drop in collections. Many of the residents at this property were low income and technology deprived.
Madera had informed those delinquent on their rent about Fort Worth’s rental assistance program, but many of these residents were initially rejected for assistance because: they were unable to figure out how the rental assistance program worked; they did not understand how to use the technology and did not have the required documentation.
“Many residents thought if they got this rental assistance money, it was a debt/loan they had to pay back to the government,” said Coon. She adds, “While we waited for the City of Fort Worth to simplify this program and provide additional rental assistance, we decided to educate more and get more creative about ways to help our residents get the rental assistance they needed.”
Madera decided to host a “Rental Assistance Night” from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. at their south Fort Worth property. This particular property had lost numerous eviction cases and was 70% on their collections. At 3:00 p.m., the onsite team delivered flyers about Rental Assistance Night to every delinquent resident. The flyer stated that the onsite team would be in the office that evening and would help the residents complete the rental assistance application process. The flyer asked the residents to bring their ID and any additional documentation they made need to sign-up for the program.
Cayce says, “Our office was packed!! (Of course, we had social distance stations set up and required masks to be worn). We helped 19 families successfully fill out their applications, scan all required documents in, and completed their landlord verifications right there on the spot! We also randomly leased a 1-bedroom apartment in the middle of the event at 8:00 p.m.! The next day, another ten families reached out who couldn’t attend the event, and we were able to help them too.”
When asked to describe the evening and the way Madera’s onsite team assisted their residents, Cayce said, “One word: WOW! There were lots of tears shed. Residents shared with Madera’s onsite team how overwhelming it was to apply and how they had given up trying! Some of our residents told us that their ‘pride’ had prevented them from applying as well. I am so proud of this team for going the extra mile and finding a way to get over the hurdles and stigma of rental assistance that was creating so much stress for both the team and our residents.”
Many AATC members have residents that face similar challenges: the digital divide, self-imposed a psychological barrier, and feelings of helplessness. We sometimes perceived poverty as a lack of resources, and it is, but it is also a lack of hope.
Gina Kostansek, the Property Manager, added, “I was so moved! I thought we were educating our residents by sharing links and places with money to give each month. I was frustrated, assuming that these people were not applying for government money that was sitting there. I learned through this Rent Assistance Night that this is not the case. I went into this thinking that I was going to educate these folks; they educated me instead. We must do more for our residents. Going this extra step opened my eyes. Our residents need more.”
Thank you, Madera, for showing us that a little help from a friend can provide the resources and, more importantly, the hope our residents need.
John Gillespie, WAK Property Management, is the AATC Government Affairs Committee Chair. For more information, contact Perry Pillow at email@example.com