Navigating the social safety net can be a full-time job in itself, requiring inconvenient in-person appointments and logistical backbends. When you’re already spending hours trying to find work–or find child care so you can look for work–a seamless support system is a blessing. That’s exactly what APAH and Arlington Thrive were hoping to provide when they partnered to hire shared Case Manager Henry Spears in October.
“By hiring Henry in a joint position, we’re breaking down as many structural and logistical barriers for people to get them the services they need as easily and quickly as possible,” explained Arlington Thrive Executive Director Andrew Schneider. “It was important for us to have somebody who could work seamlessly with APAH residents, APAH resident services staff, and Thrive staff and understand the systems and cultures of both organizations. Henry has a social work degree, social services experience, speaks Spanish, and quickly gained credibility with APAH residents and the staff of both organizations.”
Collaboration between APAH and Arlington Thrive is nothing new. Arlington Thrive has long provided financial assistance to APAH residents both directly with APAH and in response to requests made through Arlington County. But this position takes the partnership further. “Because we’d worked with APAH so closely, we developed strong relationships with the resident services team,” Schneider said. “During the pandemic I was impressed by how much this team was able to accomplish through unbelievable circumstances. Their compassion toward and knowledge about so many residents across all the properties blew me away. We envisioned that the case manager position would be a bridge between the front line resident services staff and additional resources that Thrive and the 30-plus organizations in Arlington’s social safety net could bring to bear. Together we recognized we could improve efficiency and bring more services to residents. Both APAH and Thrive are putting the needs of residents first and foremost.”
Spears’ main role is to work with the hundreds of APAH residents who are behind on their bills and help them get caught up on back rent and other delinquent payments by using a variety of relief programs. “APAH and Thrive are working to relieve residents of the financial stressors that they’re experiencing, and to help them alleviate the debt they’ve incurred because of job loss or their hours being cut,” Spears explained.
Spears works in close collaboration with APAH’s four resident services coordinators: Josue Amaya, Erin Brown, Cecilia Gonzalez, and Ana Hidalgo. Each coordinator is responsible for the residents of several APAH properties. Spears sits down with each coordinator one day a week on site at an APAH property, going down the list of residents who need help. Residents on the list may owe anywhere from $50 to $20,000 in back payments. Spears and the resident coordinators are currently focusing on residents who have a minimum of $1,000 balance on their accounts.
“My goal is to ensure our resident services program maximizes impact and is intentional about how we show up for our community,” said APAH Director of Resident Services Marquan Jackson. “We have invested more resources and allocated more staff capacity to build relationships and provide a consistent resource for residents as they navigate the pandemic. Our work with Thrive is one example of how we’re making a difference in the community.”
Once Spears reaches a resident on his list, he explains the available resources. “It’s their choice if they want to apply for the resources. For example, we can connect them with the Virginia Rental Relief Program, assistance through Thrive or Arlington County, or assistance from Dominion Power or other energy companies. We try to provide as many resources as possible. We will either refer them to the resources or we offer to set up a date and time for them to meet with us and we’ll help them complete the application.” Because of his joint position with both organizations, Spears can often eliminate logistical barriers to funds and deliver checks to residents quickly.
Many residents either don’t realize they are eligible for programs that will help them pay down or eliminate their balances, or they are worried that signing up for such a program could be detrimental. “We make sure they know they understand there’s no negative consequence for going through the process of applying. For example, in the Latino community, many residents think they can’t apply for relief because of their immigration status, or they’re afraid a law enforcement agency will track them down from their application. We assure them that there are no questions in these applications about immigration status. Funds are available for everyone,” Spears said.
Sometimes, however, residents will encounter a limit to the amount of rent relief they can receive. The Virginia Rent Relief Program offers applicants 15 months of assistance, which they are not required to pay back. Once they’ve received 15 months worth of rent payments, however, they are no longer eligible to apply for more. Spears and the resident services coordinators often discover that residents have not yet used their entire 15-month allocation, so they can apply again. If they have exhausted the funds from that program, they may be able to apply for help from other programs. Spears is waiting to find out whether Arlington County will receive additional funds from the state so they can extend Virginia Rent Relief Program opportunities for another three months.
“This partnership enables APAH residents to take advantage of the broad landscape of services and programs that are available,” said Andrew Schneider. “Henry can talk with our team about what a resident needs and chances are they’ve dealt with something like that before. Because he doesn’t have other resident services responsibilities, he has the time to make the calls and follow up to do whatever it takes to help these residents.”