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Last December when Burlington County first launched its new Housing Hub, Freeholder Director Felicia Hopson predicted the initiative would become an important resource for county residents.
Little did she know how right she would be as the Hub would become a critical part of the County’s response to COVID-19 and the economic upheaval the pandemic has caused.
“From the very start we knew we wanted to give residents experiencing housing problems a single location to come and receive a full continuum of assistance available. What we didn’t expect was that coronavirus would require us to move our services online and by phone and that the virus’ impact would create such demand,” said Hopson, who came up with the idea for the Housing Hub and worked with Human Services officials to implement the initiative.
The Housing Hub is located at the Department of Human Services Building in Westampton and provides a single location for homeless or residents who are housing insecure or experiencing hardships to come for services and receive help from many agencies and programs. The initiative is intended to provide residents with emergency help but also assist them with any underlying issues that may contribute to a housing crisis.
Due to the pandemic, the Housing Hub suspended in-person services at the Human Services Building, however, it has continued services online and by phone.
Since March, just under 1,000 individuals have received services from the Hub, including 555 homeless individuals who have received emergency shelter and over 200 people have received rental assistance or housing placement help. A total of 57 residents have also received security deposit help and five have received assistance with paying utility bills.
“As a board, we’ve made ending homelessness in Burlington County a priority and the Housing Hub has been a huge step forward,” Hopson said. “It has also become a real resource during the pandemic for individuals and families experiencing housing problems, by connecting them with rental and mortgage assistance or other financial help. The goal is to keep our residents in their homes and to keep them safe.”
Housing Hub staff have become advocates for residents who are being threatened with eviction in violation of Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders, as well as rent hikes without appropriate notice.
As part of the state and county pandemic response, the Hub also administers the state’s COVID-19 Rapid Rehousing Initiative and its COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program.
The Rapid Rehousing Initiative provides up to a year of temporary rental assistance and stabilization services to help homeless and low-income individuals and families obtain permanent housing. As part of the program eligible residents can receive aid from the state for security deposits and utility deposits, moving costs, application fees and credit reviews.
The COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program provides back and upcoming rent and mortgage payments for residents and families that have suffered financial hardships from the pandemic, such as loss of income or work hours, unable to work due to being considered high-risk or because of a child’s remote learning. The assistance is capped and restricted to individuals or households earning less than 450% the federal poverty level.
The Hub is currently processing 224 applications for assistance it received before the state temporarily suspended the program due to the high volume of applications.
The Hub also coordinates with NJ 211, the Burlington County Board of Social Services and various housing providers and advocacy groups to ensure residents can access help and services.
“The strength of the Housing Hub has been our strong partnerships, especially with NJ 211, the Board of Social Services and our providers,” Hopson said. “By working closely together we make it easier for residents to access all the services available. The last thing anyone wants when experiencing a hardship is to have to search for services. The Hub serves as their direct link.”
Residents seeking more information about Housing Hub assistance and programs can call 609-265-5185 or email firstname.lastname@example.org