Responding to COVID-19 in... Charlottesville, Virginia
This post continues a series highlighting the responses of SECF members to the COVID-19 pandemic in their communities. We will use this series to highlight partnerships, coalitions and innovative examples of giving that help those affected by this crisis. If you are involved in a program you would like to see highlighted here, contact David Miller, director of marketing and communications, at email@example.com.
The rapid and catastrophic economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have been especially devastating to low-wealth neighborhoods, where residents often live paycheck-to-paycheck and don’t have the savings to cover emergencies.
With families throughout the region suddenly unable to pay rent, many foundations have quickly adapted to provide creative solutions that provide direct support to those that need it the most. For the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation in Virginia, these solutions have included rent abatement for residents of a mobile home park and a helpline that allows households across a seven-county region to request aid.
“What we’re really focused on is trying to stretch outside the bounds of what a community foundation typically does by partnering to respond quickly and directly to the needs we see in the community,” said Brennan Gould, the foundation’s president and CEO. “Our rapid response has also been about deploying philanthropy in places that other systems would not or could not go.”
One of those places is the Southwood Mobile Home Park, a mostly Latinx community of about 1,500 people, one-third of whom are children. Incomes in Southwood were already well below the median for the Charlottesville area – when the economic impacts of the pandemic hit, they hit hard, Gould said.
“At least half of the working residents are experiencing either the loss of their jobs or a reduction in hours. This means paying rent has become difficult or impossible for many of them, who live paycheck-to-paycheck,” she said. “We also know that some of our community members living in Southwood are excluded from receiving federal and state stimulus resources, which make them even more vulnerable to the financial impacts of this pandemic.”
Southwood is operated by Habitat for Humanity, providing the foundation with a ready and trusted partner. Through its Community Emergency Response Fund, the foundation made a rent-abatement grant to Habitat for Humanity that covers two months’ rent for Southwood households.
“Habitat has operated Southwood since 2007 and they are trusted in their community,” Gould said. “So, in an effort to stabilize households who were going to be excluded from other financial support programs, we partnered with Habitat on a strategy that keeps as much money in people’s hands as possible.”
A similar strategy guides the work of the Community Resource Helpline, a phone number and online form that households can use to request financial aid. The Helpline was up and running by March 23 thanks to a partnership with a grassroots initiative, Cville Community Cares, along with the local United Way, the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County.
“That’s what makes this partnership so strong,” Gould said. “It takes advantage of the resources and expertise of all these organizations and entities to accomplish something together we couldn’t do nearly as well on our own.”
Through April 17, Gould said, the Helpline has fulfilled more than 3,000 requests, resulting in the disbursement of more than $1.7 million in direct payments to households affecting about 9,000 people in the region. Households receive up to $1,000 to cover rent, utilities, groceries, and other household expenses. Barriers that might make it more difficult for households to obtain these funds have been lowered, with support being delivered through non-traditional channels including Venmo and cash delivery.
“We don’t want people to have to depend on having the Internet or having a bank account in order to have access to this help,” Gould said.
The work has not been without its challenges, Gould said, especially since everyone involved is working from home. Yet the results speak to a collective strength – not just among the foundation’s staff, but the entire Charlottesville community.
“In the face of these huge needs we have come together, as donors, as facilitators, as organizers, as community members, to make sure that we take care of each other,” Gould said.