News from Way Finders | June 2021
A Message from Keith Fairey, President & CEO
A Call to Action and a Time of Transformative Change

A global pandemic, an economic recession and a shift to remote work. Moving to our new Housing Center in Springfield, welcoming a new CEO and increasing staff by nearly 30%. Dispersing $25 million in emergency financial assistance to over 5,000 families amidst a housing crisis on the verge of an emergency. These are some of the key variables that have defined a year of unimaginable change for Way Finders.

I am extremely proud to work with and lead a team of dedicated staff who have navigated this year with grace and resilience. It’s a testament to their adaptability and commitment that we were able to meet our mission during such a period of crisis. We have become an organization committed to continuous improvement: We are unafraid to try new things, to learn from both our successes and failures, and to dramatically change the way in which we meet the needs of our clients and communities.

As we lift our gaze to the future, we recognize how essential our new approach will continue to be to our work. In the immediate future, we will focus on using our collective talents, skills and tools to foster a recovery that is equitable and inclusive. To that end, we are challenging ourselves to think about ways we can increase our impact in the region. We see this time as a call-to-action moment for all of us, with the central question being: How can we seize this moment of recovery to create an economically and socially thriving region? The Greater Springfield Housing Study, which was published by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute in March 2021, highlights significant economic and housing disparities in our region: 

  • Over the 5-year period leading up to the pandemic, no growth in median income among Black and Latinx households, while white and Asian households saw 12% and 40% increases, respectively.
  • Homeownership rates for Black and Latinx households at 30%, compared to 70% for white households.
  • A growing gap in housing supply, with the current shortage of 11,000 units projected to grow to 19,000 units by 2025.
  • 55% of Pioneer Valley renters are housing cost burdened (paying 30% or more of income for housing), compared to the Massachusetts state average of 50% of renters.
  • A 20% increase in home sale prices, with extremely low inventory.
  • Housing vacancy rates at below 5% for renters and hovering around 1% for owners.

These indicators help identify what needs to be solved for and invested in to get to the transformative changes our region requires to thrive. 

While the circumstances are daunting, many of the solutions are clear. And thanks to the resources appropriated in the American Rescue Plan, we can get started in earnest. Moreover, the proposed American Jobs Plan has billions more in housing and economic resources that, if passed, will provide a generational opportunity to eliminate the racial, ethnic and economic inequities highlighted by the housing study. To harness these investments, we must work together across sectors and jurisdictions to set clear priorities, center racial and economic equity, hold each other accountable, and build the capacity necessary to reap the maximum benefit for our region. Way Finders is committed to working with all stakeholders to realize this opportunity. We hope you will join us.
COVID-19 Emergency Assistance
Throughout the pandemic and continuing now, Way Finders has distributed a variety of state and municipal emergency assistance funds to help residents with rental, mortgage, and utility arrearages. During the April 1st through March 30th timeframe, the number of households we served in 2019/2020 vs 2020/2021 has increased 362%, with total funds dispersed increasing 718%.

To learn more and view our most recent data, click here.
Meet Millie Colon
Accountable Care Organizations Manager
“I’m new!” Millie Colon says, of joining the Way Finders Housing Consumer Education Center in November 2020—amid a global pandemic. She is currently the housing services manager and manager of the accountable care organizations (ACO) program.

Within the ACO program, Millie manages a staff of three housing navigators who assess the urgency of every referral, including help with applying through Residential Assistance for Families in Transition and federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funding.

Millie has held a variety of other roles in her tenure: homelessness prevention counselor, court specialist, Massachusetts Landlord Association trainer, and, up until the end of May, manager of a 12-person team of applicant chasers. Dubbed the “Cognito Applicant Chasers Team,” this group has responded to 50+ applications a day for the past few months, a volume directly linked to the housing hardships posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent daily tallies have hovered closer to 100.

“We’re changing people’s lives, for a fact,” Millie says. “We’re stopping evictions daily. Someone’s utilities being shut off at 3:00 today? We chase the case, we assign the case, we review the case, we approve the case. In one day. We do it every day. We have a great team, it’s not one person. I’m impressed every single day by their commitment."

From Shelter to Affordable Housing
A Hopeful Future for Jetsabeth and her Daughters
A safe place to call home? It’s one where you can step outside and connect with neighbors. Where you can relish the relief that comes from quiet, violence-free nights. Where you can regroup each day and catch your breath. Where you can safely live in the moment and purposefully plan for the future. Where you can watch—with more joy than stress—as your children grow.  
 
These are aspects of daily life that all parents want and need for their families. But for Jetsabeth Rodriguez, a resident of Way Finder’s 27-unit property at Butternut Farm in Amherst, these foundational cornerstones were not always a given. 

Family Self-Sufficiency
Celines Ramos
A lot can change over the course of five years. Especially when you've thoughtfully mapped out your educational and career goals and the steps needed to reach them. And connected with a mentor who is invested in your well-being. And committed to doing the work to improve relationships, one family meeting at a time.

Donor Highlight
Health New England Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Mini Grant
We extend deep thanks to Health New England for their recent award in support of our Digital Inclusion for Older Residents Program. The Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Mini Grant is helping Way Finders to close the digital divide—the gap between those who do and do not have ready access to computers and the internet—faced by older residents of Springfield’s Mason Square and Maple High-Six Corners neighborhoods. 
 
Our Community Building & Engagement Department is using the award to connect residents with both access to devices and supportive coaching from peer mentors. With such keys to the digital world, older residents can participate in our virtual Community Advocacy Training workshops, community meetings and chair aerobics classes. They can also have virtual medical visits, engage with family and friends, and access entertainment and educational resources—all of which can help boost health and well-being. 
If you feel inspired by these stories,
you can help! 
 
Philanthropic gifts of all sizes allow Way Finders to support clients such as Jetsabeth and Celines—and the individuals and families that Millie and her team assist every day.  

You can make a one-time or monthly donation online at wayfinders.org/donate.

Or give via mail: Way Finders, Resource Development, 1780 Main Street, Springfield, MA 01103. 

Questions? Please contact supportus@wayfinders.org.