While the tireless work of medical professionals, teachers and grocery store workers has rightfully been celebrated throughout the pandemic, you may be less familiar with the work of housing counselors. During a challenging year that exacerbated the U.S. housing crisis, those close to the situation say that housing counselors are the pandemic’s unsung heroes.
“Having a safe and affordable place to call home helps lay the foundation for wellness, dignity, and economic opportunity, and throughout the pandemic, housing counselors have continued to help their clients avoid eviction and remain in their homes,” says Eileen Fitzgerald, head of housing affordability philanthropy with Wells Fargo.
Most counseling agencies are approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), making their advice objective. According to Fitzgerald, here are three ways housing counselors can help during a pandemic:
1. Offer homeownership advice: Navigating the process of home buying and homeownership is extremely challenging. Housing counselors provide independent advice on buying a home, refinancing, defaults, foreclosures and credit issues, as well as advice about whether a particular set of mortgage loan terms is a good fit based on individual circumstances, often at little or no cost. During the coronavirus emergency, they’ve also helped homeowners understand their current options for relief and protection.
2. Provide help for renters: Housing security can be tenuous for renters in the best of times. During a global pandemic that caused widespread income loss, unemployment and illness, many found themselves unable to make rent on time. Housing counselors helped individuals leverage protections for renters, as well as provided trusted guidance, including enrolling renters in need of assistance in plans to address sustainable rent repayment, debt management, and improve their long-term financial health.
3. Close the housing gap: The work of housing counselors addresses systemic inequalities related to housing in an effort to close the housing security gap, particularly critical during the pandemic, which has disproportionally impacted Black, Latino and Indigenous communities.
Recognizing the need to keep Americans housed during the pandemic and beyond, the Wells Fargo Foundation has provided $225 million to nonprofits that help individuals, families, entrepreneurs and communities, with a focus on assisting racially and ethnically diverse people disproportionally affected by the pandemic. As part of this effort, the foundation has awarded grants totaling more than $80 million for housing-specific initiatives, including:
• Grants to nonprofits that offer eviction and foreclosure prevention assistance, rental assistance and financial counseling.
• Donations to organizations providing free or low-cost legal assistance and representation for renters, particularly vulnerable people disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
• Grants for Community Development Financial Institutions serving rural, persistently poor communities.
• Housing stability grants for national nonprofit housing intermediaries and local community-based housing nonprofits.
“Through our support of housing counselors, we hope to inspire meaningful change to a long history of systemic inequality, injustice, loss of wealth and housing instability experienced by people of color, particularly during times of economic distress,” says Fitzgerald.
To learn more, visit hud.gov/findacounselor.
During a stressful year of uncertainty, more Americans experienced housing security thanks to the behind-the-scenes work of housing counselors. (StatePoint)