August 4, 2020 | Kristen McCulloch
In continuation of our series “building back,” Family Services Manager Mary English-Tri shares how we have continued to work with our partner families who are working toward homeownership.
Under normal circumstances, the Family Services Department at Habitat Charlotte Region works closely with families throughout the homeownership process. From the very beginning when families are accepted into the program, team members build close relationships with homeowners that go beyond move-in day. Staff meet and communicate with homeowners frequently as they move through the program, however over the past few months, the impacts of COVID-19 has forced Mary and the team to create new ways of exchanging information with homeowners to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Like most businesses and organizations, Mary says that Family Services has relied heavily on technology to make meeting with our homeowners possible. Homeowner education classes are held on Zoom and families are able to select their exterior and interior colors via FaceTime. As the office re-opens, the staff will minimize in-person meetings as much as possible, limiting them to families who may need a translator and will be held in the office’s conference room that is large enough for social distancing and will be cleaned after each meeting.
For Critical Home Repair, projects were halted in March to ensure the safety of staff and the homeowners who are often older and at higher risk of COVID-19. Over the next few weeks, the program will resume with the goal of working with families who are able to relocate entirely for the duration of the project or during the day when repairs are made so staff can thoroughly clean before the homeowner returns. Meetings with homeowners are also conducted virtually as much as possible and informational videos are shared via YouTube.
COVID-19 has significantly impacted many Habitat homeowners’ jobs and thus their ability to pay their monthly mortgages – Charlotte Habitat Region’s mortgage delinquencies peaked at almost 30% at the end of May. The good news is many homeowners are reporting that layoffs and furloughs are ending, with many anticipating full time work returning in July.
Family Services proactively shared information about the City of Charlotte’s Mortgage Relief Assistance Program with homeowners and recently learned that the first family has been approved to receive 3 months of mortgage payment support. It is expected that mortgage delinquencies will continue to remain elevated through December. The Family Services staff is also working to secure their own mortgage relief funding to provide support of up to 120 days in arrears for families who are ineligible or unapproved for city, state or federal programs.
As we move into the next few phases businesses and offices re-opening, Mary says that the team will maintain strict cleaning and safety protocols to keep all homeowners and staff safe and healthy. And despite the challenges and impacts of COVID-19, our projected plan for serving families for the upcoming year is strong and shows considerable growth. Over the next fiscal year, Habitat Charlotte Region plans to serve 36 families through Homeownership (new home construction), 126 through Critical Home Repair, 27 through Previously Owned Homes and 85 through Money Matters; our set of financial literacy classes that are not limited to just our partner families.
The impacts of COVID-19 may have slowed us down, but have not stopped Habitat Charlotte Region from continuing to partner with families in our community to make their dreams of safe, affordable homeownership a reality.