What to Look for in a Partner for a Successful ERA Program

successful ERA program

While it appears the United States economy is finally beginning the long road to recovery, the personal financial impact on millions around the country continues to grow. After millions of Americans lost work during nationwide lockdowns, rental debt and eviction worries have begun to skyrocket, leaving a growing number of people with deep housing insecurity. Affordable housing has long been an issue in America and the effects of the pandemic have propelled the crisis into uncharted waters. Fortunately, the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program was created to provide funding for households that have had difficulties paying their rent and utilities. As a PHA, you want to roll out a successful ERA program. But, how do you go about making that happen?

The ERA has two programs, ERA1, with a provision of up to $25 billion in funds, and ERA2, providing up to $21.55 billion. The first was enacted in December of 2020, as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, while the second was enacted in March of 2021, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. In both programs, funds are given to states, Indian tribes, local governments, and U.S. territories, who are then responsible for using the funds as assistance to eligible households in their rental and utility needs. 

In order for eligible people to obtain funding from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, they need to apply through their state or local governing entity. As the Public Housing Authority in your area, and if qualified, you will work directly with ERA funds, helping people in your community obtain the money they need. 

The US Treasury has created a streamlined process for the completion and submission of applications. Using an electronic portal, potentially eligible individuals can review the requirements for eligibility and apply for the ERA2. 

Rolling Out a Successful ERA Program

You’ll want to ensure a seamless and successful ERA program rollout in your PHA. The best way to do that is with top software that gives you the tools you need for success. While you may already use PHA software, you might want to make a change for the ERA program. Using the right software will help you create an effective ERA rollout in your community. 

Here’s what you want to consider when choosing your new PHA software:

Length of time in the PHA industry

Choose a software provider who has been around for a decent length of time, assisting with PHA processes, organization, and more. Opting for new software is risky; lacking experience, not having time to work out the kinks, and few people to provide feedback on it. With PHA software, it’s not the time to experiment with the newest. Pick a tried and true software that’s been around for a decent length of time. 

Proven track record

Along with longevity, you will want to find software that has a proven track record of success. Check references and testimonials to find out if certain software is known to provide the right results. If reviews aren’t overwhelmingly positive, or the software hasn’t been around long enough to gain them, you’ll want to look elsewhere. 

Used for traditional housing

When finding a PHA software that works cohesively with the ERA Program, you also want to make sure that it can be used for traditional housing as well. While the ERA rollout is a current consideration, eventually you’ll need that software to circle back to more traditional housing needs. Don’t get caught making the change to a one-function software. 

Finding a PHA Software Vendor

When you talk with vendors, you’ll need to ask questions in order to gain clarity on the most essential issues. One of the most important questions to ask vendors is if they are big enough to take on the rollout of the ERA Program. 

Traditional PHA software will have a number of features such as customer care, data conversion, financial and management consulting, as well as other professional services that help Public Housing Authorities streamline their processes and serve their communities. With the addition of the ERA Program, PHA software will include these features as well as additional features applicable to the program. You will want to make sure that any vendor you talk with can confidently say they’re ready to take it on. 

As you partner with a vendor to use a PHA software for the ERA Program, there are a few things you’ll need to look out for:

  • Is the platform ready to go? 
  • Does it have effective reporting?
  • Will it be able to be deployed quickly? 

Finding the right PHA software and implementing it quickly should be a top priority. As you work to get help to those hurting in your community, you need great software that will meet your needs and provide effective assistance to your rollout of the ERA Program. 

It’s time to build back your community, help your residents, and breathe life back into your area’s housing. A great PHA software can help you do just that. 

EXPLORE EMPHASYS AS YOUR PHA SOFTWARE VENDOR.

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FAQ: Emergency Rental Assistance Program

Emergency Rental Assistance Program

As we begin to recover from a global pandemic, many across the nation are still facing rental debt and eviction filings. The Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program is offering help for those who cannot pay their rent and utilities. ERA1 and ERA2 provide billions in funds directly to the states, U.S. territories, local governments, and Indian tribes.

We have assembled a list of questions to help navigate the ERA programs and links to help your PHA find the information it needs. And don’t forget – Emphasys Software has the tools and expertise to assist PHAs in administering the ERA Programs. 

FAQ’s on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program

Who is eligible to receive ERA assistance and how is eligibility documented?

Grantees are only able to use the ERA funds to offer financial assistance to eligible households. Eligible households must have to pay rent, have qualified for unemployment benefits, or have experienced a reduction in income, incurred significant costs, or faced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The household must be at or below 80% of the area’s median income. Lastly, at least one member of the household must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability.

How does an applicant prove they qualify for unemployment benefits, experienced income reduction, incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

The grantee can depend on a written attestation by the applicant or relevant documents proving their qualification under unemployment benefits. As it is difficult to determine that financial hardships are caused by the pandemic, Treasury encourages grantees to rely on the self-certification of the applicants.

How can a grantee determine that a household member is at risk of homelessness or housing instability?

Documents including past due utility notices, rent notices, or eviction notices can assist a grantee in determining their eligibility under this requirement.

How do applicants qualify under the income criteria?

Income eligibility is based on the total household income for 2020 or the household monthly income determined by the Secretary of the Treasury. This income-eligibility must be reviewed every three months during the duration of the assistance. Documentation to determine income includes a written attestation from the applicant or employer, pay stubs, W-2s, wage statements, tax filings, and bank statements.

How does a grantee document an applicant’s residence and the amount of rent owed?

Grantees need to acquire the applicant’s current lease, utility bill listing that residential unit, an attestation by the landlord, and bank statements showing a pattern of paying rent.

How are “utilities and home energy costs” defined and documented?

These separate charges are related to the occupancy of a rental unit, including electricity, gas, water, sewer, trash, and other energy costs. These should be documented by a bill, invoice, or evidence of payment. Those costs covered by the landlord will also be treated as rent.

Is it required that beneficiaries have rental arrears?

No, the ERA program permits enrollment for prospective benefits. But all rental arrears must be taken care of first before prospective rent payments for ERA1. ERA2 does not require this.  

Is there a limit on the number of months of financial assistance that can be received?

Yes, ERA1 provides up to 12 months of assistance, plus three months if needed to ensure housing stability. ERA2 must not exceed 18 months of rental assistance when combined with financial assistance under ERA1.

Does the ERA require that the household have been in the current rental home when the COVID-19 pandemic began?

No, there is no requirement regarding the length of tenure in the unit.

As the ERA1 does not allow duplicates of any other federally funded rental assistance program, are tenants of federally subsidized housing, Low Income Housing, Public Housing, or Indian Housing Block Grant assisted properties eligible for the program?

Yes, if ERA1 funds are not applied to costs that will be, or have been, reimbursed under other federal assistance.

May grantees assist households for which they are the landlord?

Yes, if the grantees comply with all provisions of the statute.

Are homeowners eligible to receive ERA assistance for mortgage, utility, or energy costs?

No. The ERA program applies to an eligible household in which applicants are required to pay rent.  Homeowners may be eligible for assistance through the Homeowner Assistance Fund, established by the Treasury under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

May Treasury ever recoup ERA funds from a grantee?

Treasury may recoup ERA funds if the grantee has not complied with the limitation on the use of the funds.

May rental assistance be provided to temporarily displaced applicants living in hotels or motels?

Yes, the cost of a hotel or motel occupied by an eligible household may be covered using ERA assistance under “other expenses related to housing”. This is if they have been displaced from their primary residence or do not have a primary residence.

For more information about Emphasys Software’s technology designed to help your PHA administer the Emergency Rental Assistance Programs, please visit the Emphasys ERA Program site.

General information about the Emergency Rental Assistance Programs can be found on the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s website. 

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Emphasys Software Awarded SOC 2 Type 1 Certification

PEMBROKE PINES, FLJune 10, 2021 – Emphasys Software (Emphasys) is proud to announce that it has successfully completed the Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 Type 1 audit. With this SOC 2 Type 1 designation, Emphasys continues to demonstrate its commitment to best-in-class compliance and data security standards for our affordable housing customers.

The SOC 2 certification process affirms that Emphasys Software’s information security practices, policies, procedures, and operations meet the SOC 2 standards for security, availability, processing, integrity, privacy, and confidentiality in the cloud.

“Our SOC 2 certification shows customers that Emphasys takes customer data safety and security on the internet very seriously,” said Dave Badun, General Manager of Emphasys. “With the increasing risk of ransomware attacks on public housing authorities, it is of the utmost importance that we provide assurances of security and reliability of Emphasys to all our customers and their residents.”

By meeting the stringent requirements to receive a SOC 2 standard of security, Emphasys provides a broad range of capabilities and benefits for any public housing agency with an assurance that our internal controls have undergone the most rigorous review. This creates peace of mind and convenience when, for example, residents are making rent payments or are filling out rental applications online with personal information being stored in the cloud.

About Emphasys Software:

As a pioneer of enterprise software for public housing authorities, Emphasys has set the standard for innovative compliance-based business solutions since 1976. Emphasys’ software is used to help manage and house nearly one million families through over 200 of the nation’s leading, and many of the nation’s largest, public housing authorities. Emphasys offers a complete suite of enterprise software applications with service and support that automates business processes efficiently and effectively. Emphasys Software is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Constellation Software Inc. (TSX:CSU).

HUD/HHS Work Together to Provide Greater Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

HUD/HHS Work Together to Provide Greater Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

HUD/HHS Work Together to Provide Greater Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

The efforts to increase access to COVID-19 vaccine options are underway, with a joint effort between the US Health and Human Services and the US Housing and Urban Development. The agencies are partnering up in an attempt at assisting communities that have been disproportionately affected by aspects related to COVID-19. This includes households obtaining assistance from HUD, as well as people in the midst of homelessness.

HUD/HHS Work Together to Provide Greater Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

As the HUD/HHS work together to provide greater access to COVID-19 vaccines, the partnership will leverage the COVID-19 vaccine program as a way to reach thousands of public housing properties, multi-family housing properties, and homeless shelters across the country. Through the collaboration, COVID-19 resource access will be increased in these at-risk communities in an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus and assist in the well-being of families and individuals. Increased resources include readily available vaccinations and COVID-19 tests. 

While vaccination numbers continue to steadily increase, it is among the most vulnerable and at-risk populations that numbers remain low. Disabled individuals, senior citizens, minority and marginalized households, low-income families, and the homeless are the types of groups served by the HUD. By partnering together, the HUD and HHS will be able to expand these groups’ access to complete COVID-19 care and prevention.

This is a combined effort to further the purposes of the Biden administration, as it works to create a cohesive and effective COVID-19 response. As the efforts to vaccinate all Americans continue, the HUD/HHS partnership targets the vulnerable communities that could otherwise be left out. 

As a part of the effort, community health centers are being asked to reach out to the groups and grant recipients associated with the HUD. These groups include public housing authorities, single and multi-family owners, homeless providers, and more. 

As a public housing authority, you will be able to work together with your community health center to craft a seamless strategy for the prevention and mitigation of COVID-19. An effective strategy will include vaccination, testing, and treatments. 

With many Americans, including those in vulnerable communities, distrustful of the COVID-19 vaccine, part of a comprehensive strategy will include a cultural and educational approach to vaccine effectiveness and safety.

You may be asked to facilitate COVID-19 testing and vaccinations in your communities by providing registration and scheduling, as well as running on-site vaccination clinics in your housing development. 

Work with your community health center to determine how you can best serve your public housing sites and communities in this combined HUD/HHS COVID-19 response. Assisting in testing and vaccination is a huge step in the fight against COVID-19. If you need help with the organization, implementation, or related needs around software, reach out any time to a member of our team.

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Implementation Best Practices for MyTenantPayments® 

MyTenantPayments®

MyTenantPayments®, the latest portal within Emphasys’ MyHousing suite, allows PHAs to accept online payments from their tenants. Whether they are paying with a credit card, debit card, or ACH, tenants are able to quickly and conveniently pay their PHA bills through a secure online platform.     

Wondering what it takes to implement this powerful and time-saving portal? Here are some best practices and other considerations for implementing MyTenantPayments® quickly and efficiently. In fact, PHAs that approach the implementation in the recommended manner are capable of getting the system live in a couple of weeks.

Implementation Best Practices for MyTenantPayments® 

Roll Out MyTenantPayments® Incrementally

Change can be difficult for staff and tenants alike especially when it comes to a new bill-paying process. Therefore, we recommend selecting a single development at your PHA as a test site. Limiting the rollout will limit the number of questions your staff will receive from tenants regarding the system. Once you are confident in this soft rollout, around two months later, you will be in a great position to open it up to your other developments or more tenants. 

Convenience Fees or Not

MyTenantPayments® allows the PHA to have complete control over the online payment process including whether to include convenience fees or not. As a PHA you should decide ahead of time if you are going to charge for using the service or not. For example, credit and debit cards can charge a certain percentage per transaction and ACH a different amount. PHAs even have the option of capping these fees for their tenants. Have this discussion with PHA Management ahead of time so you are ready with an answer during implementation.

Professional Services Steps In

Once you have your test tenants/development selected and have agreed on convenience fees, Emphasys staff can come in and work with the PHA to configure the system. This includes working with the PHA to get the sub-merchant setup, configuring and naming drawers in the accounting system for the online payments, and then linking the drawers to the Portal in the backend of the system. Finally, Emphasys works with their customers so they are comfortable using the MyTenantPayments® interface. PHA staff quickly learn how the administrative side of the system works so they can assist tenants who may have questions or need a little help understanding how to input payments. 

Monitor Data and Repeat

Once MyTenantPayments® is live at one of a PHA’s small developments, staff can easily monitor the flow of payments and use reporting to ensure there are no anomalies in the data moving through the system. Once the PHA has a comfort level with the portal, they can easily replicate the implementation and go-live steps and repeat the MyTenantPayments® rollout at any number of other developments.

Ready to see MyTenantPayments® in action? Contact us to schedule a demo today!

 

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An Online Tenant Payment Portal Designed for the Needs of Today’s PHAs

Tenant Payment Portal

Without the right tenant payment portal, it can be a challenge to collect monthly payments from your residents. The more tenants you have, the more challenging and confusing it can become. The last thing you want at the end of the month is to have to search out payments that were missed or lost.

To combat the struggles of ineffective, disorganized tenant payment processes, your tenants need a simple, effective way to make payments. They need a seamless, streamlined platform that lets them make secure, online payments using debit cards, credit cards, and ACH.

They need MyTenantPayments®.

The Tenant Payment Portal You Need

What is MyTenantPayments?

Emphasys Elite’s MyTenantPayments is the most efficient and cohesive online tenant payment platform out there for use by Public Housing Authorities. Instead of inconveniencing yourself and your tenants with confusing and inefficient payment methods, you can make the process fast, simple, and safe.

With MyTenantPayments, you and your tenants will have access to a streamlined platform that has a number of capabilities and features, which provide the easiest way to make and receive payments. Features include:

 

Debit, credit, and eCheck payments

Tenants are able to make their rent payments and other charges with the method of their choice; credit cards, debit cards, and eChecks are all acceptable forms of payment through MyTenantPayments. With this platform, making payments is seamless and convenient for tenants, and they are easily processed and collected for you.

 

Security

The MyTenantPayments platform was carefully crafted with security in mind. Online payments are an essential part of business today, however, people making online payments need to know that their private information will be kept safe. MyTenantPayments provides the security needed to give you and your tenants peace of mind.

 

Flexible and Automated

When people use a platform to make regular online payments, they should be able to set up automated payments and account notifications. The platform must also provide users the flexibility to change settings, payment methods, alerts, dates, and more, in a simple, easy-to-understand manner. The MyTenantPayments platform provides automation capabilities and the necessary flexibility to ensure streamlined payment processes.

 

Integration

MyTenantPayments is fully integrated with the Emphasys software, making your processes simplified and streamlined into one cohesive place. Instead of working with various third-party platforms, you can perform all of your processes and organization in one tenant payment portal.

 

Benefits of MyTenantsPayments Platform

When using the MyTenantPayments platform, there are a number of benefits that will ensure a high-quality payment experience for you and your tenants. Utilizing a tenant payment portal provides an effective and efficient way to collect payments and keep tenant information organized and secure.

It also lowers your costs by enabling you to accept electronic payments, streamlines the payment process, and helps ensure payments are made on time through automated payment reminders.

Collecting payments from tenants has never been easier or more secure. With the MyTenantPayments platform from Emphasys, you can put an end to confusing, late payments by using seamless payment solutions.

Ready to see MyTenantPayments in action? Contact us to schedule a demo today!

National Fair Housing Month | Public Housing News

National Fair Housing Month

April is National Fair Housing Month— a month to commemorate the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. On April 11, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, expanding on previous acts to prohibit discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of a house based on race, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, or family status. Title VIII of the Act is known as the Fair Housing Act. The act furthers the beliefs of Civil Rights icons like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The theme for National Fair Housing Month 2021 is Fair Housing: More than Just Words. This year’s theme reflects the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to advance housing equity and the importance of raising awareness about our right as Americans to fair housing.

HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge said, “Fair Housing Month is a time to recommit to our nation’s obligation to ensure that everyone has equal access to safe, affordable housing. Unfortunately, housing discrimination still exists, from individuals and families being denied a place to call home because of the color of their skin or where they come from, to landlords refusing to allow persons with disabilities to keep assistance animals, to individuals being denied a place to live because of who they love.”

Fudge continued by saying that fair housing is more important than ever during these times of unprecedented crisis. 

Every April, HUD is joined by local communities, fair housing advocates and organizations nationwide to commemorate Fair Housing Month by hosting activities to highlight HUD’s fair housing enforcement efforts, enhance public awareness of fair housing rights, and emphasize the need to end housing discrimination.

Fair Housing Month is a reminder that the principle of fair housing is not just in terms of state and federal law, but it is also a fundamental human right. America is made up of people of all races, classes, backgrounds, religions, and abilities, and our housing system should reflect that.

Ways to Commemorate Fair Housing Month

We’re proud to partner with so many incredible PHA’s that are working to make housing fairer every day. If you’re looking for a software vendor to better support you in these efforts, schedule a free consultation today!

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Accountants On Call for PHAs: What to Do When Your Finance Manager Leaves

There’s never a good time to lose your CFO/DOF/Finance Manager. Finance Managers handle everything from reporting requirements and audit cycles to coordinating the day-to-day activities of a PHA’s Finance Department.  They are a valuable part of your management team, providing the information you want and need to make the right decisions for your agency, your staff and/or your tenants.

The departure of the Finance Manager leaves a gaping hole. Tasks that will go undone range from supervising the daily fiscal operations of the agency, including oversight of accounting, financial reporting, audits, budget administration, revenue collection, inventory management, payroll processing, non-profit tax returns and funds investing, to providing you with information and analysis for decision-making.  Finance Managers also likely complete aPHA’s Operating Subsidy Calculation, and Unaudited and Audited FDS and tracks RNP on a monthly-basis, requesting HUD-held funds when needed.  Depending on the size of your PHA, your Finance Manager also has a significant list of “Other Roles as Assigned.”

CONSEQUENTLY, it takes some time to find the right person.  You want to find that person who is capable of not only heading your Finance Team but also being a leader in your Management Team.

Because your Finance Manager is so essential to the success of your PHA, perhaps your best strategy as you look for the right person is to use an Interim Finance Manager.  Our Accountant On Call (AOC) service may be perfect for you.  The AOC sets aside a number of hours for our experts to help, and you use as many (or as few) hours as you need while you search for your permanent Finance Manager.

Emphasys Consulting can help you “bridge that gap.”  We provide fee accounting, audit/review support and other management consulting services to PHAs of all sizes, and our strength lies in our range of experience and depth of industry knowledge.  Our team consists of focused, customer-sensitive professionals whose specialties include certified public accountants, IREM and NCHM certified managers and experts who understand the “what, why and how” of effective PHA management.

  • We know and understand the complex rules and regulations of HUD.
  • We know effective and efficient PHA operations and management.
  • We know technology.

Perhaps short-term Accountant on Call help is just what you need in the interim. Contact us for a no-obligation assessment of your needs.

What to Look for in a PHA Software Vendor

PHA Software Vendor

The Public Housing sector has benefited from software vendors offering solutions with the goal of streamlining and automating processes. But beware, not every PHA software vendor is the same. Effective PHA software is integrative, comprehensive, and simple to use, creating efficient solutions for public housing authorities. 

There are a number of reputable PHA software vendors to choose from. For software solutions that will best meet your needs, you need to understand exactly what you should look for when searching for in a PHA software vendor.

Essential PHA Software Vendor Features

Due to the nature of public housing authority software, there are certain features that you’ll want from your vendor. These features help to ensure that your PHA has effective, efficient, seamless processes. 

Customer Care

When it comes to PHA software, the last thing you want is to be left on your own. You need to know that you’re working with a vendor that provides great customer care support behind the scenes to assist and support you as you utilize the public housing authority solutions. 

Look for a PHA software vendor that is keenly focused on ensuring their clients receive efficient, accurate, and actionable support. By finding a vendor that offers top-notch customer support, you’ll know that you’re not on your own. You’ll have someone to walk you through any questions or troubles that arise, keeping your software, and processes, running smoothly. 

Data Conversion

In the Public Housing sector, seamless data conversion is essential. With any PHA software that you use, you’ll need to know that your data is secure and will be properly stored and converted through any migration. 

Your PHA software vendor should focus intently on effective data conversion. This means that they will invest a significant amount of time and money in migration, as well as dedicate an expert team of professionals. Knowing that data conversion will be accurate, secure, and effective is an essential component for your peace of mind when it comes to your PHA software. 

Financial & Management Consulting

The public housing authority has one main goal – serving the families in their community and meeting their needs. It’s important that every PHA is set up for success to assist their community. 

When it comes to finding a PHA software vendor, you’ll want to make sure that they have optimized their financial management service operations and resources in order to best serve your community’s families. This means your PHA software vendor will provide guidance and consulting to actively and effectively serve your community. 

Professional Services

When choosing a PHA software vendor, you will want to look for a company that offers implementation and training services. Your software is a necessary tool for public housing, however, without the resources needed to properly implement and use it, you’ll be missing out on the features you need. 

Make sure your vendor offers a number of professional services to assist you, including cohesive implementation and training. You’ll be able to effectively utilize your software to streamline your processes and serve families. 

Emphasys Software – PHA Software Vendor 

Not every PHA software vendor has the features you need for success. Take the time to find a high-quality vendor that will meet your needs and help you serve the families in your community. 

Emphasys Software is committed to serving the public housing sector. With high-quality PHA software solutions, we provide customer care, data conversion, financial and management consulting, and the professional services you need. 

SCHEDULE A CALL WITH EMPHASYS TODAY!

Hosted Software: Working from Home in the Age of Covid

Hosting is a good option to enable your staff to continue working safely.