After two successful years as a pilot program, a Sioux Falls Thrive initiative designed to help families avoid eviction has found a permanent home.
Through 2020, Sioux Falls Thrive’s Housing Action Team looked for ways to prevent eviction. The team imagined what would happen if property managers and tenants could bring in a neutral facilitator to help them resolve disputes. Their work led to creating a job description for a Housing Retention Specialist.
Following a Request for Proposal Process, the Housing Action Team worked in collaboration with East River Legal Services to develop the pilot. Allison Thompson was hired in the new position.
I personally believe this position has impacted the community in a very positive way. It feels like every time I join a community meeting, everyone is super satisfied with the HRS services.
Support Needed Now More than Ever
At recent count, 1,100 school-age children in Sioux Falls are virtually homeless. With affordable housing in short supply, finding a place to live is tough. The search is even tougher for a family that’s lost a home due to an eviction.
“Originally, the Housing Retention Specialist position was created in response to the pre-pandemic eviction crisis,” says Michelle Erpenbach, Sioux Falls Thrive president. “Today, our community — and especially our children — need this support more than ever. The HRS is a life preserver during what could be the worst time in a child’s life: being evicted from the place they call home.”
Money Is Not the Only Problem
The most common reason for eviction is missed rent payments. But for many families struggling to make ends meet, money is not their only problem. The retention specialist is trained to assess a family’s needs and to link them to existing community resources that can help stabilize their living situation.
“One family I worked with was a single mom with two children,” says Thompson. “The client was referred to the HRS program by a former property manager. She was behind on rent due to some family members moving from her house. The client used to split the cost of rent with these family members, and they left without giving her any time to prepare for the change. On her own, the client couldn’t afford the unit. She lost wages and started struggling with health issues. HRS connected the family with financial assistance through the South Dakota Cares program. She was approved for funds until the end of her lease to avoid an eviction. Then, the HRS helped the client find a smaller unit that she could afford.”
I worked with this client for about four months. It feels so good to be part of this family’s journey. At the beginning, we addressed her immediate needs and then developed a plan to prevent this situation from happening again. I talked to the mom recently, and they are still living in the new unit without any problems.
Housing Retention Specialist
Pilot Finds Permanent Home
The pilot was funded in part by a $207,000 Community Innovation Grant from the Bush Foundation in St. Paul, with the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation serving as the grant’s fiscal sponsor.
After a highly successful two-year pilot, East River Legal Services agreed to take on the position permanently in late 2022. Other organizations are interested in developing their own versions. And ERLS is reporting that they’re growing the number of participating landlords simply by tweaking some of the original regulations that were part of the pilot.
We no longer require landlords to be a part of a program or sign an agreement, and ironically, Allison is actually finding that landlords are more willing to work with her because they don’t feel obligated to do so. I’m really happy to have the HRS services in conjunction with the legal services we can provide.
Executive Director, East River Legal Services
Making a Difference
“Many of the families we serve do not have any kind of family or social support,” says Thompson. “Having someone guiding them through the process and encouraging them to not give up seems to be one of the things people appreciate the most about the HRS support.
“Personally, I feel privileged to be in my position. I’ve been able to make a difference in the lives of the families I work with. It’s amazing! I really believe in the HRS program and can guarantee we have accomplished our goal: helping families stay in their homes.”
Affordable Housing Is Critical for Stability
The goal of Thrive’s Housing Action Team is to be a catalyst to influence, advocate for, and support funding for housing development on behalf of the most vulnerable populations in Sioux Falls.