Gilliam Place, an APAH mixed-use project completed in 2019 with 173 new affordable units as well as ground floor and civic space.
Nina Janopaul, president and chief executive officer of Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) says, “It feels like I was on another planet. We had just held our APAH board meeting with 25 board members and 10 senior staff the night before the pandemic was declared. Business as usual.” APAH is a non-profit that builds, preserves and operates affordable housing.
Then everything changed quickly. APAH immediately went to remote work. Everyone had laptops. She says they already had a conference call line, and added a video line.
“There were innovations every day.” Janopaul says they stopped all of their special programs for children like Girls on the Run, Spanish, Ready to Read. They closed the community rooms and playgrounds.
“We did all kinds of scrambling and moving. We realized we had to step it up.” She says, “The whole protocol about safety changes every day and CDC is not as helpful as they could be.” APAH continually looks for best practices.
APAH has partnered with Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) to deliver food on-site to three of their properties with 350 of their most vulnerable seniors and those with disabilities.
“They are socially isolated and need help getting groceries and medications.” She said Long and Foster solved a logistical problem of easy access for the volunteers to their locked buildings by volunteering to loan APAH lock boxes, allowing the volunteers to more easily deliver food. Currently APAH owns 17 multi-family properties in Arlington. APAH owns rental properties that house 1,800 households, mainly in Arlington, in a mix of renovated garden apartments and new construction, mixed-income, mid-rise and high-rise apartment buildings.
Janopaul says APAH has had to customize their food distribution because it was too interactive. Now instead of customizing the groceries, everyone gets a bag with the same supplies. She says it isn’t ideal because of different dietary needs but it is safer. Some of the frail elderly were added to the rolls of Meals on Wheels.
Janopaul says their maintenance staff wear masks when they go into residential units. Although APAH had a supply of masks regularly worn by their maintenance staff for hazardous and dirty work, “we were blessed by a number of volunteers who also needed protection. Penny De Filippi from my church got together her quilting group. They have been making really colorful masks for our staff and volunteers.”
Last week APAH received the results of a client survey to identify hardship. It located an additional 240 residents with mostly financial issues.
“A lot of residents are in crisis. They can’t pay their rent or utilities.” She says this drove home for her “how vulnerable our residents are. They have less savings and the huge income disparity in Arlington is going to hit them quite hard with the job loss.”
She said there are a lot of conversations with their loan office, “especially today. Rent was due yesterday. We’re trying to identify resources to get rent supplements, to apply for the new program, to keep up with the changing circumstances.”
Currently, APAH has identified essential employees, who come in for a period of time with minimal contact. This includes the accountant who comes in once a week to print checks, the cleaning crew, an officer to sign contracts, and administrative staff a couple of hours a day to process mail.
So far there has been only COVID positive resident. But as a precaution, Janopaul says they try to prepare the protocols for a high-rise building, tracking the contacts from the prior five days, notifying them, observing the HIPAA privacy rules. One of APAH’s employees had symptoms but a test came back negative. Janopaul adds another employee just got sick last week and was told there was no testing available for non-medical personnel.
“Those of us in the affordable housing network know how important affordable housing is to keep people out of homelessness. I hope that Congress will put in funding for affordable housing to give people a safe home.”