How housing authorities are communicating with low income households amid coronavirus - Affordable Housing Online

How housing authorities are communicating with low income households amid coronavirus

As state governments begin to order the closure of non-essential businesses and services, low income households are concerned about access to critical housing information and services.

By on March 23rd, 2020

Tagged As: Coronavirus, Editorials

Image by CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS at phil.cdc.gov/

In normal times, it could be hard for an applicant, participant or an interested party to call and speak with a live person at a Public Housing Agency (PHA). Whether it’s by way of being transferred to the appropriate staffer, or carefully navigating an automated phone system, reaching a live person immediately was not always guaranteed.

In these times of the COVID-19 national emergency, many PHAs have either closed their offices to the public, or are closed entirely with staff working remotely from home. Services being affected by this may include rent payments, inspections, and submitting waiting list applications. This makes a staffer’s daily routine tasks difficult enough to manage, but considering the large number of clients each office has, PHAs have a lot on their plate right now.

While it may be difficult to reach a caseworker, inspector, or supervisor right now, housing authorities across the nation are making an effort to get necessary information out there.

It’s important to review the PHA’s website first, if one is available. Many PHAs have posted special information about how they are working and communicating because of the changes in response to the COVID-19 virus.

If you need to call for any reason, be prepared to leave a voicemail message. Most housing authorities already have an automated telephone system through which callers are routed according to prompts and options selected in response to recorded questions. There may be an automated message with the information you’re looking for. If a voicemail message is given, don’t expect a call back for days or weeks.

For people just needing information: Leave a message with your question, name and call back phone number. Applicants and participants may be contacted first.

For applicants wanting to know their place in the waiting list: Many PHAs don’t tell you your place on the waiting list. For those that do, some PHAs provide information from their website; either by downloading a list, or logging into an online portal. Some PHAs also have automated phone systems for this information. In the case that waiting list status can only be confirmed in person, check for any changes of normal office operations.

For applicants and participants who need to report a change: If the PHA has a website or facebook page, visit and review the information on their website. Some have ways to report a change via the website. If no information can be found online, call to leave a detailed message, name and your call back number. Don’t make numerous phone calls. One call and voice message will do.

For residents: PHAs should still be responding to requests for emergency assistance and repairs. The PHA voicemail will tell you how to report an emergency repair. Some PHAs have  ways to report a needed emergency repair online.

For a participant with an upcoming appointment: If an applicant or participant has a scheduled appointment, and the offices are closed until further notice, don’t call to leave a message. Most appointments will be rescheduled thirty or more days later. If the PHA has a website, check for any information regarding the cancelled appointment.  

Some PHAs may try to conduct recertification appointments over the phone. Hopefully, the PHA’s voicemail message will tell you how their procedures have changed.     

We contacted or attempted contact with nine of the largest Public Housing Agencies across the country to get an update on their current operations. Here is what we found:

Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA)
Atlanta, Georgia

The Atlanta Housing Authority’s answering voicemail stated the offices are closed to the public from 3/18 to 3/30.

However, Affordable Housing was able to contact Karen Young, Senior Director of Communications, Marketing and Public Engagement.

Karen told us the following: 

Because Atlanta Housing is closed, all appointments will be rescheduled for a later date.

Employees are working remotely until March 30, 2020.

Public Housing is managed by private management companies. The Atlanta Housing Authority required managers to submit plans outlining procedures concerning social distancing and health and safety protocol for providing maintenance, (by 3/18/20).

Atlanta Housing will continue to post information for landlords on their website at https://www.atlantahousing.org/, and after March 30, 2020 when Atlanta Housing plans to open again, all group meetings will conform to government guidelines and protocol, regarding social distancing.   

Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD)
Birmingham, Alabama

The Housing Authority of the Birmingham District’s answering voicemail message dId not indicate closure and the voicemail message option was full and would not take a message. 

Apartment management staff took my call from a different phone number and stated all executive staff and other staff were out of the office until further notice.

HABD has a message pop-up and a flyer titled Reduce the Risk, on their website found here: http://habd.org/.

Inlivian (formerly Charlotte Housing Authority)
Charlotte, North Carolina

On March 16th a receptionist answered and gave us the email address for Cheron Porter, Senior Vice President of Public Relations.

On March 20th, we attempted to call the office again and a recorded voice message answered stating Inlivian employees were working remotely and to leave a name and phone number for a call back.

Via email, Cheron stated the following:

Inlivian employees are working on a telework basis for the next thirty days.

All public meetings have been canceled and Inlivian is looking into how to host meetings virtually.

Inlivian’s maintenance emergency protocol has been implemented and inspectors will complete only emergency service requests in a timely manner. Routine service requests will be suspended. In the event a family has an emergency in a Public Housing Unit, Inlivian is contacting the housing provider to ensure they are aware of the situation and that it is being corrected. If an inspection is conducted and there are repairs needed, as long as it is not a health and safety issue, our housing providers can self-certify their repairs electronically by sending a picture and receipt of completed work.

We found that Rent payments can still be made using Inlivian’s Rent Café system link included in their COVID-19 notice found here: http://inlivian.com/.

Chicago Housing Authority (CHA)
Chicago, Illinois

 On March 18th, at the Chicago Housing Authority, a receptionist answered and stated the office is open and doing business as usual but was told the offices might be closing soon.

We were transferred to their Director of Communications and had to leave a voicemail.

The Chicago Housing website included COVID-19 information and the website address of the Chicago Department of Public Health COVID-19 response found here: https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/covid-19/home.html.

Denver Housing Authority (DHA)
Denver, Colorado

On March 19th, the phone voicemail message stated the Denver offices were closed until further notice and gave a phone number to call for emergency work orders.

However, on the DHA website, there is extensive information regarding how DHA is coping with COVID-19. There are four separate COVID-19 action plans that cover the Community, the Housing Choice Voucher Program, Public Housing and Procurement, along with a FAQ document. 

Also, the website listed phone numbers and email addresses for various departments. If using the phone numbers, prepare to leave a voicemail message.  

The website can be found here: http://www.denverhousing.org/Pages/default.aspx.

Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA)
Los Angeles, California

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles answering voicemail message did not indicate closure of HACLA offices.

We were unable to reach staff.

The HACLA website contained a message dated March 17, providing information regarding the closing of offices to walk-in traffic, until further notice.

The HACLA COVID-19 message can be found here.

The website also still included HACLA’s online portal for Public Housing residents to pay rent, and the portal to complete an application for Public Housing. However, the Intergovernmental and Communications portal on the website appears to not be working.

Louisville Metro Housing Authority (LMHA)
Louisville, Kentucky

On March 18th, at the Louisville Metro Housing Authority, a receptionist answered and stated the office is open and doing business as usual. We were transferred to the phone of their communications manager but had to leave a voicemail. We also sent a message to the email address given in the communication manager’s voicemail message. As of 3/19 we have not received a reply.

The LMHA website contained a link to information about COVID-19 at the Louisville City Government website here.

Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development (MDHCD)
Miami, Florida

On March 19th, we were able to speak with Annette Molina, Communications Manager at the Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development.

Annette told us that as of March 19th the Miami-Dade offices were open and doing business as usual. She stated she saw no indication of disruption of rent payments or services.

On the Miami-Dade County website, there is a message concerning the COVID-19 virus and the latest news regarding closings, found here.

New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA); New York City, New York

The New York City Housing Authority’s answering voicemail message does not indicate widespread closure of NYCHA offices. However, the voicemail message stated their two Customer Care Centers were closed for walk-ins, from 3/16/ to 3/20. The phone voicemail service was extensive with prompts to connect with every program and service, including requesting repairs for Public Housing residents.

The NYCHA website contains much useful information about how NYCHA is coping with COVID-19. There is an update from March 17, 2020 about COVID-19 and separate guidance documents regarding rent hardships for Section 8 participants and Public Housing participants and updates for staff working in apartments and management offices.

We found a Self Service portal for Section 8 participants to report a decrease in income at https://selfserve.nycha.info.

The NYCHA website also reported the following:

  • All termination actions are suspended while the City is under a state of emergency, but at a minimum of 60 days. 
  • All Planned Public Housing utility outages are suspended until further notice
  • Postponement of public meetings and events at NYCHA offices and developments for 30 days.
  • NYCHA staff will continue to perform emergency maintenance and repairs at developments and in apartments. When arriving to make repairs, maintenance staff will ask a series of questions regarding COVID-19 and take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

The fight against the spread of COVID-19 is a new reality for the United States government. HUD’s contingency plan, created to address a government shutdown, would not apply for a time when social distancing and sheltering in place measures are necessary. We found Housing Authorities are trying different ways to keep communication open with their participants, owners and staff, using few consistent methods except for rules that apply to social distancing.

We encountered responses ranging from PHA’s vigorously using their websites to get information to their tenants and landlords, to others that are shuttered and still working on their plans, to some that are still conducting business as usual.

We wish all PHA staff, residents and participants continued good health and safety, as always, but especially now, during this time of national emergency and we thank all housing authorities for the work they do; for their resilience, resourcefulness and creativity in managing and administering housing programs during these trying times.