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ERA AL: Q&A with Celeste Stewart, VP of Operations for Apartment Services and Management, Inc.

April 05, 2021

Apartment Services and Management, Inc. (ASM) manages more than 100 properties throughout the state, consisting of over 4,000 HOME, HOME/Tax Credit, Bond/Tax Credit, Tax Credit only, and Rural Development/Tax Credit units. Stewart is also a general and/or limited partner in over 70 tax credit-funded developments.

Q: How did you hear about ERA Alabama?

A: Through AHFA and the Alabama Affordable Housing Association

Q: What is the biggest benefit of the program?

A: The potential benefit for our residents is enormous. Never in my memory have residents of affordable housing faced the additional challenges that they have endured during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our residents, with the least disposable income, have had to make tough choices regarding paying their rent versus buying food, medicine, and many basic necessities of life. Our property managers have discussed these difficult choices with our residents throughout this pandemic, and it is heartbreaking! ERA will provide the opportunity to residents that have made these tough financial choices during this past year, and we are hopeful we can get everyone registered through the ERA portal, which is a monumental task with over 4,000 residents in our portfolio. However, we are committed to assist in any way possible.

Q: What are some challenges surrounding ERA Alabama?

A: Other than the volume of residents, we have had a few challenges with the ERA software portal, which is normal as this program is new to everyone. I have called the ERA Call Center on several occasions, and they have been very helpful. Communication challenges also exist with our elderly population as well as our tenants with physical or mental disabilities, but due to our property managers’ dedication to their residents, we are making progress.

Q: How are you getting the word out to your residents about ERA Alabama?

A: Obviously, communication has been key during this process. We have been in constant contact with our property managers from the onset of hearing of the ERA program. We have had many phone calls and conference calls to get the information out to our managers so that they could inform our residents. We have also sent several flyers and letters to our residents to keep them informed. Something that has been helpful is collecting contact information of residents who are interested so we may register their households and then email them to submit their applications. We also offer assistance to any residents who need help with their application.

Q: How many residents have applied for the program?

A: For our portfolio, I am estimating we have received 1,200 resident forms returned to our property managers, who scan and email them to our home office. We have several team members in-house that are entering this information into the ERA portal.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: We are excited about this opportunity for our residents and our properties. With the CDC Eviction Moratorium extended again recently, this assistance will be beneficial to our residents as well as our properties, many of which are operating on reduced revenue for the past 13 months. We are seeing an 8-10% drop in rent revenue portfolio-wide, and expenses are the same or higher than pre-COVID-19 numbers. I encourage ALL owners and management agents to complete both the landlord and tenant invite portions of the ERA program, as this opportunity may never occur again.