Developing Outreach Strategies to Spread the Word About Available Assistance
State and local programs are expending close to $47 billion in federal emergency rental assistance funds. For communities with high needs to receive their fair share, agencies will need an effective communication and outreach strategy. Even in late May 2021, research showed that only 60 percent of small rental-housing owners and 43 percent of their tenants knew that emergency rental assistance was available locally.
Community-based partners are integral bridges between residents and government entities. For example, All Home California is a nonprofit and regional collaboration of all nine counties in the San Francisco Bay area. All Home used the ERAP tool to geographically target outreach to community-based organizations working with the communities most at risk of housing instability and homelessness, such as undocumented households. The questions below can help program administrators ensure that local knowledge is informing their approach.
- Have you used the ERAP tool or local indicators to geographically target outreach to organizations and community leaders trusted by community members at likely risk for housing insecurity (even if the organizations and leaders have not previously worked in housing or homelessness)?
- Organizations that are a trusted resource for people of color, immigrants, or non-English speaking people
- Organizations that are multilingual
- Culturally specific or culturally competent organizations
- Nontraditional ambassadors or gatekeepers, such as churches
- Organizations that work with small landlords (fewer than four units), such as community development financial institutions or member organizations
- Service providers, homeless outreach teams, shelters, food pantries, community health clinics, and similar organizations
- In addition to the organizations mentioned above, have you considered using common touch points with other systems—such as state and municipal civil and housing courts, social services, financial health education providers, schools, and infant and child services—to provide information about available rental assistance?
- Have you considered providing education about your program to landlords, especially owners with four or fewer units, to dispel common misperceptions about emergency rental assistance?
Conducting community engagement to inform program design
Some localities have begun to engage and empower communities during early program design and to inform continuous program improvement. Engagement and outreach can help program administrators tailor assistance to make it more accessible and build trust between public agencies and the people they aim to serve.
Engagement ensures that programs reflect the priorities of the people and communities at the heart of the complex issues local governments strive to solve. When engagement is intentional, key stakeholders are at the table to identify local needs and challenges. With so many renters in urgent need, emergency rental assistance programs need to activate quickly. Engagement along the way ensures that the program is actually reaching the beneficiaries it intends to serve.
Administrators of the Homelessness Prevention System in California’s Santa Clara County built in feedback mechanisms from the start. Destination: Home and Sacred Heart, the two lead agencies, partnered with 70 community organizations to advertise and disseminate rental assistance. Adapting an ethos of “don’t do something for people without people,” the Homelessness Prevention System sought continuous feedback from clients receiving assistance, as well as partners. In addition to gathering comments through informal channels, administrators surveyed more than 300 households about their experiences with the program and then changed the design accordingly. For example, after learning that certain documentation requirements were too burdensome or were denying some people the opportunity to apply, administrators changed their standards. And they added ways to access the application other than online when one-quarter of those surveyed struggled with the technology platform. The Homelessness Prevention System viewed these steps as crucial to ensuring that assistance was effective in serving the community.