The close-knit affordable housing community has always shared knowledge. During the pandemic, they quickly came together to help one another.
“Everyone knows everyone, so you don’t hesitate to call someone in the community,” said Laura Selby, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Hispanic Housing Development Corp. (HHDC.)
HHDC manages nearly 4,000 apartments in four states and Puerto Rico. Pandemic restrictions have required them to work with state, local, and federal organizations to keep residents safe and informed throughout the crisis.
Coordinating across all these programs is a logistical challenge that wouldn’t be possible alone. They’ve kept connected with programs available through local agencies and share knowledge with groups through the Housing Partnership Network.
“We operate in multiple states and own a 100-apartment senior development in Puerto Rico, so we’re constantly monitoring the guidelines everywhere we manage, and adjusting,” said Selby.
Throughout the pandemic, HHDC also partnered with many local organizations to help supply residents with everything from meals, fresh produce, household items, and senior lunch box programs to community gardens, COVID testing, and even a Christmas in July celebration that helped lift spirits.
“We work in some of the poorest, hardest-hit communities with lost jobs and infection rates,” Selby said. “The need for affordable housing and stable communities is greater than it ever was before.”
HHDC worked to meet immediate needs by providing daily wellness checks, rideshares, and access to COVID vaccine providers.
“The in-house Resident Services Coordinators have gone above and beyond to provide vital services. They have been a lifeline to the residents,” Selby said.
Art Fosters Community
Before the pandemic, a collaboration between the Resident Services Coordinators, onsite management staff, and residents, helped incorporate art into HHDC’s developments. That has continued, adapted for social distancing and safety.
“It really brings value to the residents: it promotes inclusion and shows care for their community. People want to be involved, and it’s fun,” Selby said.
The wide range of programs has included a Holiday Door Decorating contest and a community ornament decoration. Residents created and decorated a First Responder Appreciation Banner and even participated in a socially distanced cake walk.
Ongoing projects share resident artwork with the wider community. The Diversey Square development in Chicago now publishes an annual calendar featuring artwork by residents aged 5 to 12. And their 1201 N. California development will incorporate art by a local artist in the façade of the building.
“The art is intended to communicate HHDC’s efforts to preserve affordable rental housing in a neighborhood undergoing rapid demographic changes that are displacing long-term residents,” said Steve Porras, HHDC’s Vice President, Real Estate Development, of the N. California project.
The Team Comes Together
Selby was impressed by the resilience displayed by the HHDC team. They came together to keep supporting residents despite unprecedented challenges.
“There was no playbook,” she said. “You pivot and make it work. Looking back and benchmarking all the things we’ve accomplished since March  really debunked the myth that you can’t accomplish anything remotely.”
Making Progress Despite the Pandemic
HHDC has largely stayed on track with its organizational goals. Acquisitions were leaner, because in-person inspections were paused. To address an 8-12% loss in rent caused by the pandemic, HHDC turned to local, state and federal grants to make up the difference. There were also additional costs for PPE and cleaning, and insurance and construction costs rose during this time.
Yet they have continued to apply for and receive tax credit awards and have bid on RFPs. Just a few weeks ago, they received an award to manage the Chicago Housing Authority’s Senior and Scattered Sites North West and North Central, 6,200 senior apartments – which will more than double the number of apartments they manage.
They’ve also taken advantage of low interest rates and have refinanced seven properties, which will allow them to reinvest in their developments. At Palmer Square Apartments in Chicago, they just started a $6 million renovation.
“We’ve worked well with our partners during this time, especially in the grant-writing process. NeighborWorks America and NeighborWorks Capital have been key partners throughout,” Selby said.