At Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation (MMCDC), a NeighborWorks network organization in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, the COVID-19 pandemic made life more complicated. But a number of residents in the community had already been struggling, relates Laura McKnight, director of housing and real estate.
Laura McKnight with some of the items the organization purchased with help from NeighborWorks America and the Wells Fargo Foundation.
Because MMCDC manages small, rural rental units, the housing staff was able to watch for and connect with residents who needed rental help on a case-by-case basis. Some of those residents received help using a grant MMCDC received from NeighborWorks America's Critical Relief Fund, made possible by a generous contribution from the Wells Fargo Foundation
"Our goal was to help families get into more stable housing situations," says Jamie Erickson, development officer for MMCDC. "We wanted to help them find longer-term solutions."
That meant helping a client who came into the office because 75% of his disability income was going toward his rent. "Thirty percent of income is supposed to be the top," explains McKnight. "He was really going backward. He has a daughter who couldn't stay in his unit because it wasn't big enough." MMCDC was able to move him to a two-bedroom apartment at a lower rental rate, and used funding from NeighborWorks to help him make the transition.
Another tenant was living in a rented single-family home. Her grandchildren, who once resided with her, were graduating and moving on. MMCDC moved her to a smaller unit and used Critical Relief funding to help cover the security deposit and a month's rent.
McKnight tells the story of a third situation, where a retired couple had moved from their home into an apartment. The husband became ill, moved to assisted living and died a short time later. Because his wife was unable to navigate the steps into the apartment without his assistance, she became homebound. MMCDC assisted her move to an apartment with a handicapped entrance by providing her with a security deposit and a portion of her first month's rent.
The couple had lived in the same apartments more than 30 years earlier. "She said she felt like she was coming back home," McKnight says. "Critical Relief funding made a significant difference in these individuals' lives."
MMCDC also used Critical Relief funding for personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, technology support and reusable facemasks, which were distributed to all residents and staff. The supplies helped minimize the spread of germs during the pandemic. "We wanted to make sure people were safe in their buildings," McKnight says.
"The flexibility of the funds also proved helpful," Erickson adds. It allowed MMCDC to provide gift
cards as move-in incentives, which helped stabilize occupancy in affordable buildings experiencing pandemic-related vacancies. Nearly all of these buildings reached full occupancy as a result.