Many social enterprises target exactly those people hurt most severely by the current crisis. Here’s a round-up of emergency measures some are taking:
PadSplit: Housing for the Unemployed
About two weeks ago, Atticus LeBlanc, who founded startup PadSplit in 2017 to address the affordable housing crisis, realized that residents of his homes would be decimated by the coming crisis. After all, most work in low-income jobs in areas like retail and restaurants. “It occurred to us this was going to be a major issue for our members even if they didn’t realize it at the time,” he says.
Aimed at encouraging private investors to create affordable residences by making it more profitable, PadSplit’s business model allows property owners to turn existing housing into shared living spaces for multiple residents, who are called members. Through a resident management platform, the Atlanta-based company facilitates everything from lead generation to payment processing. With 770 units (rooms) across the Atlanta metro area, it also has housing under development in Houston and Virginia, according to LeBlanc.
LeBlanc first decided he needed to raise $200,000 to support emergency housing assistance for hourly, unemployed workers and find a way to get it them. To that end, he called a nonprofit called Code/Out, which provides free programming classes to women in prison. It quickly agreed to provide board members to evaluate the applications for housing help that would be submitted in short order. Then, the nonprofit launched a GoFundMe campaign, which has raised $7,829 to date. LeBlanc also reached out to individuals and is in negotiations with philanthropic groups.
At the same time, he approached PadSplit’s property owners to see what kind of break they could give residents. The result: Every owner agreed to waive late-payment fees. He also removed any collections or evictions during the crisis.
In addition, according to LeBlanc, he’s been contacted by several local groups and government agencies about providing beds for such uses as quarantine facilities or housing displaced college students. “A couple weeks ago, we were talking about zoning issues,” he says. “Now the crisis has brought everything back into focus, changing our assumptions about what we really need in our society.”
Propel: Special Programs for Food Stamp Recipients
Propel—recently featured in our Q&A series—has a customer base that’s pretty much 100% low-income, since its Fresh EBT app targets food stamp recipients. After hearing from many hard-hit users about impossible choices (i.e., paying for food vs. utility bills) and learning that 8 out of 10 had three days or less of money for food, the six-year-old New York City-based company reached out to GiveDirectly, a nonprofit which lets donors give cash directly to people living in poverty. “We started talking to them about ways to reach those who were the most in need,” says Jeff Kaiser, COO. “We knew they were much better at fundraising and could make sure people got the money.”
With that in mind, the two enterprises formed a pilot program to send a no-strings-attached payment of $1,000 to about 200 households using Fresh EBT. Launched this week, it targets four metropolitan areas with the highest case loads and where the most businesses have been shuttered and schools have been closed. The next phase will include Fresh EBT families, but might target other households, as well.
Generally, food stamps come to $200 to $300 a month, according to Kaiser. But most users also have experienced some loss of income and many don’t receive their next benefit payments until early or mid-April. In addition, “While we’re thrilled to see the federal government making direct cash payments, the money may not come fast enough for those in need,” he says. The emergency Fresh EBIT-GiveDirectly payments will be mailed via debit or prepaid cards to families overnight or sent online, where they can direct the money to bank accounts, debit cards or money grams.
Edquity: Helping Students in Crisis
Four-year-old Edquity’s app is all about streamlining and speeding up access to emergency support for students, so they can get help in 48 hours. Even in normal times, about 50% of students experience food and housing challenges, according to founder David Helene. With more being displaced from residences or evicted, “Right now, this population needs emergency aid more than ever,” he says.
At the moment, the company plans to make Edquity available to two colleges that couldn’t otherwise provide the services; it received 10 applications and will pinpoint the choices over the next week or so to give more institutions a chance to apply. And it’s talking to several foundations about launching emergency aid programs through which, among other features, Edquity will provide its services for free to more schools. It also worked with the nonprofit Rise and Believe in Students to assemble student relief funding.
According to Helene, Edquity’s platform experienced a trial by fire not that long after its official launch in 2019 in Dallas County. The debut occurred three days after multiple back-to-back, devastating tornadoes. “We’re used to operating in a crisis,” he says. “And we’re trying to scale rapidly to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands in the next month.”
Is your social enterprise stepping up? Contact me at @annefieldonline on Twitter and fill me in.
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