“If you’re in a housing crisis, you’re not thriving; if your housing is stable, you have the opportunity to thrive.” That’s the straight-forward reasoning behind the Richmond Association of REALTORS®’ (RAR) development of a Housing Resource Line (HRL,) according to CEO Laura Lafayette. The phone-based program, now in a year-long pilot phase, serves as a coordinated referral network for the region, connecting people with services ranging from foreclosure prevention and elderly tax relief to stable rental housing and first-time mortgage providers. A Housing Opportunity Grant has helped make the new service possible.
The need for the Housing Resource Line became evident when RAR developed its 2020 Regional Housing Framework, explains Jovan Burton, Director of Implementation for the Partnership for Housing Affordability (PHA,) RAR’s non-profit organization focused on regional housing issues, which created and is now hosting the HRL. “We learned that critical housing information and services were scattered across many platforms, and accessing these could be overwhelming, if not impossible, for those seeking help. At the same time, service providers were spending lots of time redirecting calls to other organizations.” The REALTORS® didn’t have to look very far for a way to increase efficiency for both the resource-seekers and the service providers: there was an existing model in the region’s Homelessness Crisis Hotline. “The Housing Resource Line aims to cover the many needs beyond homelessness. This program streamlines the path to answers and help, and reduces a lot of frustration,” says Burton.
RAR was able to leverage the Housing Opportunity Grant to gain further funding from partners like the Bob and Anna Lou Schaberg Foundation, the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond, and the Capital One Foundation. They hired and trained two full-time resource specialists to staff the phone lines, as well as a part-time Spanish speaker. At last count, the HRL database contains 86 different programs (some of which are run by a single organization,) and Burton says they’re learning about new ones nearly every day. Since its launch on September 1, the HRL has fielded about 650 calls; after a few weeks, they check back in with each caller.
PHA also meets with the service providers on a quarterly basis to share feed-back and get programming updates. Lafayette notes that they expected their biggest challenge to be keeping the HRL database current. Instead, what they’re finding is that the service providers are so grateful for the timesaving value of HRL, that they’re beginning to submit information on a pro-active basis.
She credits Burton with choosing “really smart” software for the program, which presents compelling data that is far more current than that of the last Census, and has become a powerful tool for PHA’s fundraising and advocacy. “It tracks all sorts of real-time data from the calls, including timely information regarding effects of the pandemic, for example. Then, it arranges it in such an easily understood manner, showing us clear trends, and where there are gaps in services and in affordable housing. I can take it to a jurisdiction and say, ‘Look at the need your area is experiencing: don’t you want to give more?’”
The bottom line, says Lafayette, is that before buyers will invest in a house, they need to buy into a community’s quality of life. That’s what the Housing Resource Line is striving to improve in the Richmond area. “I encourage REALTOR® organizations across the country to leverage the support of the REALTOR® Party to do all they can to improve people’s access to housing. You can judge the content of a community’s character by how well it’s meeting the needs of the folks wit the most limited resources, and when you work toward building a community that is equitable, open, inclusive, and just, you benefit every REALTOR® who lives and works in that community.”
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of the Richmond, Virginia region are elevating the character of their communities by offering a hand to those seeking affordable housing, contact Chief Executive Officer Laura Lafayette at 804-422-5007; or Jovan Burton, Director of Implementation of the Partnership for Housing Affordability, at 804-422-5057.