Connective’s 2021 Year in Review
Across Houston and the country, many communities struggled this year. With pandemic fatigue, vaccine confusion and compounding natural and economic disasters, we all have faced challenging tests. Our community has risen to each challenge with perseverance and teamwork.
We’re taking time to reflect on all that we have accomplished with the help of our partners this year.
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Assistance programs for our neighbors affected by COVID-19 were in full swing.
- We wrapped the first round of the Houston-Harris County Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), administered by Baker Ripley, and began the 2021 round of assistance programming with administration by Catholic Charities. The program provides rental and utility assistance to households struggling financially from job loss or changing circumstances due to the pandemic. Our application pipelines for both renters and landlords fostered transparency at every step of the process.
- We ran a peer-to-peer texting campaign from Connective Texts. We worked with FIEL Houston and the HOME (Houston Organizing Movement for Equity) Coalition to provide information about resources and available support for renters after the end of the CDC Eviction Moratorium.
Winter Storm Uri arrived in mid-February and turned our world upside down.
- We immediately launched a Winter Storm assessment survey to better understand the needs of our community. We found that the majority of residents in our area had burst pipes, roof leaks, or other associated damage.
- Soon after the survey launch, the City of Houston and Harris County launched the Winter Storm Relief Fund to provide help to those who needed home repair and financial assistance. Connective worked with 15 home-repair non-profits to coordinate home repair efforts efficiently.
Our community focused their remaining energy on long-term recovery efforts.
- Houston’s Housing Stability Task Force issued recommendations to Harris County about housing instability in the area. They highlighted Connective’s programs as best practices, and stressed the need for more accessible, connected and empathetic social services programs.
- Our Resilience Fellowship participants shared our tiered strategy for disaster home repair with the Harris County Long-Term Recovery Committee (HCLTRC). The tiered strategy is a way of delivering home repair in a more equitable manner.
- We conducted human-centered design sprints throughout the year, and we shared our specific research on high flood-risk households with the Harris County LTRC.
Winter Storm, rental and financial assistance expanded by the summer.
- By late May, over 390 homes were repaired from Winter Storm damage and more than $1.7 million in assistance had been awarded. Connective also began serving Fort Bend County with Winter Storm repair assistance.
- In June, over $100 million in rental relief was distributed through ERAP, bringing both landlords and tenants a much-needed sense of security.
- Harris County launched the Harris County Recovery Assistance program in coordination with Catholic Charities. This $30 million grant helped households struggling with COVID-related financial difficulties by offering one-time, direct payments of $1,500. It eventually added an additional $30 million to the program. To date, more than 20,000 households have received direct assistance from the fund.
- Our first group of fellows graduated from the Resilience Fellowship program, and we are so proud to call them our partners — Hope Disaster Recovery, BakerRipley, West Street Recovery & Fifth Ward CRC.
- In July, we provided comments to FEMA on what policies are currently perpetuating barriers to benefits and assistance for underserved groups. We provided recommendations on how to remove those barriers, as well as ways to provide streamlined and equitable assistance.
- We submitted ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) investment recommendations to Harris County. Our recommendations aligned with the County’s focus on government operations, housing, health and jobs, with a focus on specific populations that would benefit from these initiatives.
Need for relief was still strong in the fall and winter.
- The Winter Storm Relief Fund added a reimbursement branch to the program due to the high demand for assistance. Applicants who spent money to repair their homes after the Winter Storm were eligible for reimbursement of those expenses. The addition of this earmarked funding helped even more people in the Houston area who were struggling. Over 1,000 homes were repaired by the end of October.
- We launched the Connective Potluck — small group gatherings with social service providers and community-based organizations to design a local Community Disaster Recovery Framework by nonprofits for nonprofits. These potluck sprints are a way to identify gaps in social service delivery after natural disasters or major crises and get our collective knowledge on paper to enable action to close them.
- In November, we finalized Connective’s mission statement. We have always strived toward more empathetic, connected and accessible resources for our neighbors. We’re proud to say that our mission reflects that goal.
- We recently completed Build With Us!, a community report more than a year in the making.The publication covers specific experiences in the Houston community, and how we can leverage human-centered design to begin to tackle issues like renting and leasing during COVID-19, homeowners surviving multiple national disasters, and mothers rethinking work. Using monthlong design “sprints,” we took a dive into these topics to understand how our community confronts challenges and interacts with the social services that surround them. The report is currently in the editing phase with a planned release in early 2022, and we can’t wait to share it.
Connective has grown considerably in 2021, with the addition of five new staff members: Melissa Langston, Data Analyst, Elaine Morales, Director of Partnerships & Policy, Kevin Argueta, Program Assistant, Morgan Rodgers, Manager of Communications & Marketing, and Rachel O’Connell, Program Manager.
We’re looking ahead to even more program launches and project announcements in 2022. We’re committed to providing our community and partners with the tools they need to thrive.