‘We’re here to serve’: Housing authority looks to help residents, employees with COVID-19 changes

Corrected Oct. 15

For Andrea Tapia, success at the Columbia Housing Authority is measured by the triumphs that are achieved by both her organization’s beneficiaries and its employees.

Apart from offering housing assistance to those in need, the Columbia Housing Authority offers services geared toward helping residents meet personal goals, from completing a college degree to raising a credit score.

At the onset of the pandemic, the housing authority took a proactive approach, Tapia said, enacting various measures for program participants and employees.

Although the organization’s offices were initially closed to the public, employees never stopped working to make sure that the needs of residents were met. In turn, the housing authority worked to meet employees’ needs, from offering paid leave for those missing work due to COVID-19 to providing a space at the office for employees’ children to study.

The Columbia Housing Authority is being honored with one of the inaugural Kindness in Business awards in the Kindness to Employees category. The awards recognize businesses and organizations that have shown and promoted kindness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the Kindness in Business awards and meet the honorees.

Tapia said the housing authority has always been quick to respond to emerging needs and listen to the requests of its employees, which served the organization well in adapting to the unprecedented times brought about by the pandemic.

Tapia spoke with Missouri Business Alert about the Columbia Housing Authority and its response to the pandemic. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri Business Alert: How does the Columbia Housing Authority embody kindness?

Andrea Tapia: We want to make sure that our participants don’t have to worry about how they’ll make a rent payment because they’ve lost their job. Usually, if they have lost their job, we’ll ask them to bring in documentation and then make the adjustment to their payment. Now, if they notify us that they have lost their job, we make the adjustment first, then allow them to provide documentation. We’ve been in touch with other agencies that provide assistance. If someone is struggling with utilities, we direct them to get ahold of an agency which has funds to help with that. We’re being less restrictive on the guidelines because we really want people to stay housed and we don’t want people worrying about what’s going to happen if they can’t pay their rent.

As a housing agency, we did not stop working during the pandemic. We can’t say, because of COVID-19, we can’t issue vouchers and people can’t be housed. I’m really proud of our staff, because they come in. We had staggered dates, allowing people to sign up for certain days so that we had social distancing and people felt safe.

What we’re doing right now for our staff that has children in middle school and high school is having them in our training room to do online classes. We are providing the internet for them. We’re providing someone to monitor the classroom and provide help if they need it. This allows our staff to bring their children in while they work, and they know that their children are getting their schoolwork done. They have lunch delivered from the school. It alleviates their stress of wondering how they will get to work and their children will get their classes done.

MBA: What inspires the work done by the Columbia Housing Authority?

AT: We know that everyone needs housing. What inspires us is ensuring that everyone who needs housing gets it and those that are housed remain housed. We’re here to serve. No one here ever wakes up and dreads coming into works. We do what we do because we love to help people.

The changes that we made during the pandemic were to ensure that we didn’t let anyone down. We didn’t want to see people have to go without. COVID-19 is bad enough, losing your job is bad enough and not knowing where your next meal is going to come from is bad enough without wondering if you’re going to be housed as well.

MBA: What lessons has the Columbia Housing Authority learned from the pandemic?

AT: What we learned is that it will take an awful lot to shut us down. We never stopped working. We kept it going. We figured it out. We made things uncomplicated for our participants. We sent thousands of letters letting everyone know what was going on.

We have really good people which work really hard to keep things going. There are a lot of people who may have sacrificed a lot, because we are all affected, not just as an employee, but in our personal lives, too. But, despite all that, we kept it going and no one skipped a beat.

The high note of this whole situation is how dedicated the employees have been and how we have all worked as a community to come together and talk about what is needed. We are working a lot harder and longer to fill any gaps.

Correction: Oct. 15 at 2:30 p.m.

This story was updated to reflect the correct spelling of Tapia’s name. A previous version used an incorrect spelling.

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