Flynann Janisse
Flynann Janisse

1. Meet Residents on Their Terms: Mobile technology is ubiquitous. Per the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) 2016 numbers, 64% of low-income households own a smart phone. Leveraging technology in conjunction with more traditional approaches of service delivery not only makes sense, but it’s also a more effective approach to creating individualized plans that drive desired results. If surgeons can supplement their laparoscopy training with a technology-based component, so too can affordable housing providers. Developers ought to consider internet connectivity in the design phase allowing for the greatest access flexibility. This is true for both urban and rural developments. Under the omnibus spending bill signed into law in March, the Department of Agriculture will administer a new $600 million program to provide broadband to underserved rural and tribal areas.

2. Focus on Employment: One of the reasons Rainbow Housing Assistance Corp.’s Vocational Training Program has been so successful is because we are training residents for today’s job opportunities. A listening tour to find out what the business community needs is a critical first step in helping the residents of any served community. Our pilot program includes apartment maintenance, HVAC repair, and two Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certifications—all areas that have immediate openings for individuals who can perform those tasks and complete the required assessments. National Church Residences’ “Right Track” supported employment program notes that 53% of its graduates are employed upon completion, versus just 13% at entry.

3. Broader Partner Engagement: Each community’s unique attributes require that service providers be able to deliver most, if not all, services internally. However, both residents and the broader community benefit when a coalition is built to mutually address needs. For instance, one of the cornerstones of any service-enriched housing model must be financial literacy. The most recent study from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. found that 7% of American households (approximately 9 million) are unbanked. Often this creates credit card debt or forces residents to obtain predatory loans with astronomical interest rates. Connecting with local bank branches and services can tie directly to practical application. Continuing with this example, Fifth Third Bank offers an Express Banking, a low-barrier, no-fee product that is a good option for residents to become banked.

4. Know a Partner’s Limitations: In recent years, a disturbing trend has emerged in supportive-service delivery in order to cut costs. Some communities are attempting to bundle required services through a single touch point. Though unrelated, a summer food program vendor under contract may also be asked to provide employment training and job coaching to the adult population. This is not to say that food programs are unnecessary, just the opposite. According to the Economic Research Service, food insecurity for low-income households was recorded at over 30% in 2016, meaning that they do not have access to the types of food for a healthy and active lifestyle. However delivered, individual requirements should be met independently. State agencies and auditors are beginning to define compliance with extra scrutiny, meaning developers should ask for specifics before engaging in a service-delivery platform.

5. More Sophisticated Youth Engagement: Regardless if Congress approves HUD secretary Ben Carson’s proposed changes to federal housing subsidies, there needs to be a clear and concerted effort on helping families break out of generational poverty. The youth in affordable communities represent 100% of that family’s future. Under the direction of a Rainbow resident services coordinator and through a lot of hard work, we have watched Virnesia set a new path for her family. She’s a youth whose mother has lived in affordable housing her entire life but was recently accepted to Brandeis University. Well-rounded, education-focused youth programming is one of the most resource-intensive services that a community can commit to, yet when executed correctly it can be tremendously effective.

Flynann Janisse is executive director of Rainbow Housing Assistance Corp., a nonprofit organization that provides service-enriched housing programs for residents of rental housing communities throughout the country.