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Financial capability programs make 'cents' for renters

Financial security is critical for both the residents served by NeighborWorks America network member Community Housing Partners (CHP) and the greater area. Thus, the nonprofit organization focuses its resident-services program on the financial capability of its multifamily residents — access to financial education, coaching and the products necessary to act on what they learn.

A black woman sits on a brown couch with a notebook in her lapCHP’s resident services program provides one-on-one and group financial coaching to encourage behavior changes and achieve positive and sustainable long-term outcomes. The coaching includes guidance on managing finances, adjusting daily spending, developing a savings plan and understanding banking. According to CHP Vice President of Resident Services Angie Roberts-Dobbins, the organization’s program works in a preventive fashion so that residents avoid problems like eviction.

Maintaining stable housing in hard economic times is challenging, particularly for low-income families. Eviction inordinately affects America's poor, especially single women with children. By helping to prevent eviction, CHP helps individuals and families avoid homelessness, uprooting their children from school, damaging their credit and rent history, and/or the threat of legal action by the landlord.

"CHP’s eviction-prevention efforts give our resident services staff the opportunity to build relationships with residents and understand their challenges on a more personal level. Ultimately, our goal is to do what is best for each family in our rental communities, and that is to keep people in their homes," explains Roberts-Dobbins.

One successful financial capability initiative of CHP, the CHANGE program, helps people gain a better understanding of their finances and make sound judgments related to banking, budgeting, saving and general money management. Funded by JPMorgan Chase and administered by NeighborWorks, the program holds participants accountable for their decisions by helping them set goals and track their progress. In other words, it helps develop financial skills as well as knowledge.

“The CHANGE program is great! It has helped me learn to manage my finances, budget more effectively and identify how to save money. I love being able to bounce ideas around and learn alternative ways for handling money. But what I really love is becoming financially independent. And I’m learning a lot about myself,” says Dolly Ann Apartments resident Lynn White.

While preventive financial coaching such as that provided in the CHANGE program is ideal, sometimes a more short-term solution is necessary to help a resident who is late on rent. Once a resident has missed a rent payment, a late notice is sent, accompanied by a written offer to meet one-on-one with a resident services staff member. The offer is completely voluntary.

"This type of intervention helps eliminate any sense of embarrassment the resident might have over late rent. Not only do we try our best to assist residents in avoiding eviction, we also connect them to benefits or resources they may not know are available to them,” says Roberts-Dobbins.

Preventing resident eviction also makes financial sense for CHP. Due to the nature and expense of evictions, the organization is able to save $4,000 every time it is avoided. In 2015 alone, CHP stopped to 219 evictions, which equates to $876,000 in savings. As a result, this money can be re-invested into additional resident services programming.

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