Journal of Housing & Community Development
Featured Story

Keeping People Housed in Adams County

June 24, 2022
by Sarah Christiansen

Maiker Housing Partners won an Award of Excellence for Administrative Innovation for launching a short-term rental and mortgage assistance relief fund aimed at keeping residents in their homes as the country grappled with a pandemic and economic crisis. Nominated from among the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development. 

The COVID-19 pandemic upended almost every aspect of life across the country. As businesses began to close due to the global health crisis, many residents in Adams County in Colorado found themselves financially strained. In an effort to keep people in their homes, the County turned to the team at Maiker Housing Partners.

Recognizing the impact the crisis was having on residents, Executive Director of Maiker Housing Partners Peter LiFari met with the Adam’s County Board of Commissioners to proactively plan for a response. The County Board of Commissioners gave the first initial funding of $300,000 to allow Maiker Housing Partners to open an Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) fund.

“Maiker just rolled up its sleeves. We’re the key partner for the county in terms of affordable housing and keeping people housed in the county and so they turned to us and said, ‘Can you put something together’?” said Drew O’Connor, deputy director of Maiker Housing Partners.

Maiker already had a small rental assistance program which relied primarily on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds. The housing agency was able to use that as an example to build off but had to pull a team together from various other programs within the organization. Within a month they had a group of about six people to lead and manage their new program, the Adams County COVID-19 Short-term Rental and Mortgage Assistance Relief Fund.

“We created [the program] very quickly and launched right away a web-based application. That took us about three weeks to work through our communications partner and tech company to put together a web-based application and then we just launched it, we went for it,”, O’Connor said. “We were definitely building the plane as we were flying it.”

Shortly after launching the program, Maiker saw the need for changes. As CARES Act funds were distributed Maiker was able to bring on more staffing to support the heavy workload. As each new guideline came out, staff had to revamp the project..

LiFari and O’Connor met with their local governments and explained that action to preserve affordable housing and keep people in their homes was imperative. They were able to get just about all the cities in Adams County to allocate CARES Act funding to the program.

Maiker was then able to decide they could pay not only the aid people needed to meet rent demands but also the difference that some renters owed from previous months. Landlord would not be required to forgive any amount.

As guidelines changed again and again, the team adapted to fit the criteria. They created a coalition to allocate funds to the other housing authorities in the county.

“And that’s really when we lost total influence over the administration of the program.” LiFari said. “But we adapted, and we wanted to stay in this work because it was mission aligned. And frankly, we’re damn good at it.”

Overall, the program hit around $20 million administered and is currently winding down from operation. The online portal is now closed as they work to administer the remaining money to those applicants still waiting.

Maiker Housing Partners received great feedback for their undying support and advocacy during the pandemic. Notable members of their team include Brenda Mascarenas, Elizabeth Aryeetey, and Sonia Tirado all of whom LiFari and O’Connor wanted to give special thanks and appreciation for.

O’Connor described their team as compassionate and committed folks that are committed to the mission and serving people. “We were adamant from day one that we were going to hire Coloradans and we’re going to provide them a living wage,” LiFari said.

LiFari and O’Connor are not blind to the housing crisis that continues to take its tool across the country and in Colorado.

”The forecast is really, really concerning when it comes to the stability of extremely low-income Coloradans, we exist to serve, and we do so with a lot of passion and humility, but, you know, it’s rippling across the entire state,” LiFari said

All-in-all, Maiker is proud of the work they’ve accomplished but know there is still much to do.

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