Since it was established at Coastal Community Foundation in 2003 by the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors, the Realtors Housing Opportunities Fund, which surpassed $1 million in grantmaking in 2019, has primarily focused its grantmaking on three priorities: the repair or rehabilitation of low-to-moderate income housing, the creation of new affordable housing, and education to encourage responsible homeownership.
For the first time in its 17-year history, the RHOF program pivoted this year to help residents simply stay in their homes, as the coronavirus pandemic took a massive toll on many households’ income.
By May, two months after the coronavirus hit the United States, South Carolina had lost an estimated 238,000 jobs. Suddenly, individuals throughout the state were unsure when or from where their next paycheck would come.
The volunteer grantmaking committee that evaluates all grant applications to RHOF immediately recognized the financial hardships of their community amid the pandemic and sprang into action.
For RHOF’s summer grants cycle, the committee decided to expand who was eligible to apply for funding. This included organizations who offer temporary shelter for the homeless, rental and utility assistance, and transitional housing.
While there are policies in place now to help people avoid eviction and homelessness, they are not long-term solutions. Under the current eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control, every person must pay their rent, including back payment and late fees, come January.
Because of this, there has been a drastic increase in people seeking the help of organizations who can provide rental and utility assistance.
Brantlee de Brux, the current Committee Chair of RHOF, said committee leaders unanimously agreed to change focus to help nonprofits increase their resources to serve the Lowcountry’s most vulnerable communities during this unprecedented time.
“The reality that so many people could lose everything beyond their control was truly heartbreaking,” said de Brux.
For many people, the pandemic created economic hardship beyond what they could have imagined, explained Meghan Weinreich, Marketing Director at CTRA. While the economy has re-opened in a lot of cases; many people were unemployed for far longer than originally expected, creating large gaps in income.
“Losing a salary for a month or two months is not something that’s easily made up,” said Weinreich as she explained the reality of job loss for families and individuals.
In total, the RHOF awarded four grants to nonprofits focused on providing financial assistance in the Lowcountry. Each nonprofit was awarded $5,000, totaling $20,000.
One of the grantees was East Cooper Community Outreach, which typically serves around 175 individuals per year with financial assistance for housing or utilities in the Tri-County region. But, within two months alone, ECCO served 66 individuals in situational poverty due to pandemic-related layoffs.
The grant ECCO received is being used as a lifeline for people who have never needed assistance as well as for vulnerable individuals who are now even more at risk of facing long-term financial hardship.
Other grantees include the Humanities Foundation, serving Dorchester and Berkeley Counties; Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach Services, Inc., serving Charleston County and Society of Saint Vincent de Paul-Saint Clare of Assisi Conference, serving Berkeley County.
Originally, CTAR believed the financial hardships related to COVID-19 were a short-term issue that they could help solve, explained Claire Hayden, Director of Member Programs & Events. But as the pandemic roars on, many individuals continue to face economic uncertainty in an area where housing and rental prices continue to increase.
For their next grant cycle both Hayden and de Brux hope to be able to return to their original mission of securing affordable housing, but they haven’t made a final decision on where the funds will go.
“We just really need to continue the work,” said Hayden. “There’s more people to help.”