Housing Hotline

Partnership for Housing Affordability’s new Housing Resource Line connects callers to essential services

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It’s not always easy to know where to turn for assistance during a housing crisis, but a new regional helpline aims to connect residents in need to a network of local housing aid providers.

The Partnership for Housing Affordability (PHA), a nonprofit focused on promoting affordable housing development in the region, launched its Housing Resource Line this month. The service fields calls from struggling renters and homeowners and refers callers to agencies specializing in services including financial assistance, education, foreclosure prevention, rental assistance, legal aid and home repairs.

The Housing Resource Line serves residents in Ashland, the city of Richmond, and Charles City, Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico, Goochland, New Kent and Powhatan counties. Since its soft launch on Sept. 1, the hotline has received 225 calls as of Sept. 21.

In January, PHA released its Richmond Regional Housing Framework, a comprehensive document that outlines challenges facing Central Virginia renters and homebuyers alongside a list of solutions. Among those goals, the nonprofit suggested forming a “one-stop shop” regional center focused on homeownership assistance, but after recognizing the widespread economic strains that the coronavirus pandemic has placed on area residents, PHA Program Director Jovan Burton says the organization decided to broaden its focus.

“The beauty of the framework is that it’s a living and breathing document, which means that we’re able to … reflect current priorities,” Burton says.

Although there’s a varied range of housing service providers across Central Virginia, Burton says the helpline streamlines the process for area residents who may otherwise have difficulties identifying the programs that will best serve their needs.

“We want to ensure that we’re sending them [to programs] that they qualify for, so that they don’t go somewhere just to find out, ‘I don’t qualify for this,’ ” he explains. “We want to ensure that we’re checking all boxes, covering our bases and really looking at the lowest common denominator first.”

PHA operates the helpline in collaboration with over 20 agencies, which include the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Homeward and the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust. Burton says it was inspired by Homeward’s long-running homeless crisis line, which assists those experiencing homelessness or who are in danger of losing their homes, but rather than replicating Homeward’s efforts, PHA opted to target the scope  of the Housing Resource Line toward all other forms of housing emergencies.

“In an effort to have a fully functioning coordinating system, we wanted to make sure that Homeward continues to focus on homelessness, because that’s what they do and that’s what they do a tremendous job at,” he says. “Since we’re not a direct service provider, we can focus on playing that switchboard role and connecting folks, and service providers can better focus on service provision.”

To date, a majority of calls have focused on financial assistance, identifying affordable rental options and legal support, he says. The Housing Resource Line also has helped in gathering valuable data around COVID-19’s local impacts in real time, he says.

“One of the questions we’re asking on our intake is ‘Have your housing needs been affected by COVID-19?’ and so far, 53% of callers have said yes,” Burton explains. “That’s real-time data as far as housing instability that we don’t have anywhere else that local governments can gain access to.”

Going forward, Burton says PHA plans to present the data it gathers to local governments and continue scaling up the helpline’s scope by reaching out to communities that need it.

The Partnership for Housing Affordability housing resource line operates Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. If you or someone you know is in need of emergency housing assistance, call 804-422-5061 or complete an online intake form at pharva.com/housing-hotline-form.

SOURCE: RichmondMagazine.com