Dana Hanchin, President and CEO, HDC MidAtlantic. (Source: HDC MidAtlantic)
Dana Hanchin, President and CEO, HDC MidAtlantic. (Source: HDC MidAtlantic)

Among HDC MidAtlantic's portfolio of owned and managed properties are Ruoff Towers (main pic) and the Apartments at Mulberry Corners (inset), both in Lancaster city. (Source: HDC MidAtlantic)

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to roil the U.S. economy, causing record job losses, local nonprofit HDC MidAtlantic is doing everything it can to ensure that the low-and moderate-income families it serves can remain in their homes.

With help from a Lancaster Cares grant, it has ramped up its successful Eviction Prevention Program, adding staff hours and redoubling efforts to connect residents with available resources.

"During the current Covid crisis, maintaining housing stability for our residents has been paramount for HDC. I am incredibly proud of the work we have done," President and CEO Dana Hanchin said.

Deborah Gable, director of resident services, HDC MidAtlantic. (Source: HDC MidAtlantic)

Paycheck to paycheck

Founded in 1971, HDC MidAtlantic owns or manages 58 affordable-housing properties in three states, totaling more than 3,700 units. Nearly 1,500 of them are in Lancaster County; of those, a little over 60% are age-restricted.

The families who live in the other 40%, about 550 units, mostly live paycheck to paycheck. Many have experienced job and income losses due to the pandemic. They have little or no savings, director of resident services Deborah Gable said, so "if they experience some kind of financial challenge it can be very difficult."

Households nationwide face the same plight. Activists fear a wave of evictions will occur once temporary moratoriums expire, potentialy forcing millions of families out of their homes.

Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf extended Pennsylvania's eviction moratorium to Aug. 31. While that has given tenants breathing room, tenants are still liable for any past-due amounts.

Initially, HDC MidAtlantic projected that up to 40% of its non-age-restricted cohort might not be able to pay their rent. Fortunately, that has not come to pass, said Chad Martin, director of strategic partnerships and community relations.

That's in large part thanks to the relief measures available to them through the CARES Act. But having aid available is one thing; applying for it and securing it is another.

That's where Eviction Prevention Program comes in. It has helped hundreds of HDC households identify programs for which they qualify and navigate through the often byzantine and opaque application procedures.

Tenants can also receive financial counseling and budgeting advice. Prior to Covid-19, the program had a 95% success rate at preventing eviction, Gable said.

Automatic referral

For Covid-19, HDC has made referrals into the program mandatory for any tenant who is in arrears.

"This is a crucial step to assess resident needs, communicate a collaborative approach, share information about resources, and offer support in navigating complicated service and benefit applications," HDC says.

A Lancaster Cares grant enabled HDC to ramp up the program and make sure enough staff hours were available to handle demand. The work has been intense, Gable said.

Resident Services staff reach out to enrolled tenants monthly, offering support and resources. Some households then take action on their own; in other cases, staff and tenants work together on a formal "action plan."

"For many households, the availability of our staff to answer questions, to listen with care, and to problem solve has brought peace of mind during this stressful time," Hanchin said.

Program enrollment was just over 100 in May and June, dropping to 94 in July, HDC said. Currently, 34 households have action plans.

Hope & Opportunity

Both now and in normal times, the Eviction Prevention Program relies on connecting tenants with external aid: unemployment insurance, Pennsylvania's Rental Relief Program and so on.

Should that prove insufficient, the nonprofit has the ability to offer limited direct aid through its Hope & Opportunity Fund.

Created a few years ago and supported by donations, the fund can help tide over tenants through a short-term crisis, Gable and resident services manager Heather Haverstick said.

Since 2016, a little over $85,000 has been provided to 127 households. To date, the fund has not been tapped for Covid-19 relief, Martin said.

Needless to say, the pandemic isn't over, nor are its economic repercussions. Martin said HDC is keeping an eye on emerging issues, such as the question of child care for working parents in light of school district plans for remote instruction.

That's one of the challenges of Covid-19, he said: Every month, it seems, brings a new twist, a fresh complication.

"If they can't send their kids back to school, what does that do to their employment?" he said.

How you can help

Please consider a donation to Lancaster Cares, a Covid-19 emergency fund set up by Lancaster County Community Foundation and the Lancaster County United Way.

Tim Stuhldreher