AWS Public Sector Blog

Using the cloud to get rental assistance quickly to those in need

hand with chalk drawing family and house on chalkboard

Even before the pandemic, many people were rent burdened, with a quarter of renters paying more than half their income on rent. Keeping people housed during the pandemic is a public health priority, and because the COVID-19 pandemic increased financial pressure on many renter households, the US Congress passed two bills containing $45 billion for emergency rental assistance programs (ERAP) that states and local governments can use to support people in need.

Distributing these funds quickly and efficiently requires local agencies to rapidly design and deploy new engagement models, programs, and workflows that are simple to use, can quickly scale up to meet demand, and are flexible enough to adjust to changes in federal and local requirements. Learn how these Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers and partners are leveraging the cloud to quickly launch and distribute benefit assistance programs like emergency rental assistance.

Addressing the challenge: From traditional process to a streamlined digital approach

Many rental and utility assistance programs rely on manual, in-person processes to serve residents seeking financial assistance. Applicants often spend hours on the phone or in line trying to secure an appointment with a caseworker, and have to take time from work or job hunting to meet with a caseworker, and often do not bring the right documents to qualify for assistance. Caseworkers manually enter client information and eligibility documentation, which can be laborious, duplicative, and error prone.

These challenges can deter applicants. When the number of people experiencing financial hardship rose during the pandemic, the existing service delivery methods were strained, wait times grew, and caseworkers struggled to keep up with demand. To help, the community needs an accessible, digital solution that allows them to complete an application online quickly and receive real-time transparency on the status of their application. Existing systems needed to quickly modernize and scale to meet the surge in funding allocations and demand.

AWS customers and partners accelerating rent relief

AWS Partner Unqork provides a no-code platform for mission-critical enterprise applications allowing people who have no coding experience to create applications by dragging, dropping, and connecting components together in a visual development environment. Their configurable rent relief solution is already supporting more than $350 million of ERAP funding for its state, city, and county customers. Unqork’s Rent Relief application is flexible enough to meet local priorities, adapt as new programs come online, and provide robust auditing, analytics, and reporting. The solution uses Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service and Amazon CloudFront, which allows for the no-code creation of apps like the Rent Relief application. View their demo or listen to their Government Technology webinar.

Last year, Arizona’s state association for community action agencies, Wildfire, selected AWS Partner Prefix Health Technologies’ solution to distribute $23 million Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocation. Prefix’s cloud-based portal provides a single front door for multiple assistance programs. Architected to integrate with utility companies’ and other payees’ banking systems, Prefix can send funds immediately and directly. Their integrated governance and fund management module allows Wildfire to easily audit applications, quickly reimburse agencies doing the casework, and prepare needed city, state, and federal reporting. Wildfire is expanding to distribute emergency rental assistance for the city of Phoenix and support for a childcare referral program, allowing low-income families to pursue employment or education. The solution uses AWS services Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC)Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS)AWS Lambda, and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). The solution is available for other organizations to leverage. Check out their demo and case study. As of April 2021, the solution had served nearly 4,000 people in Phoenix and helped distribute nearly $6.2 million in rental and utility assistance funding.

With limits on staff and resources, Orange County United Way needed a way to manage the application-to-approval-to-fund process that would not inundate their call center or create lengthy queue times, and would allow financial relief to arrive in a timely manner to those who need it the most. Orange County United Way collaborated with AWS to build AssistOC, a highly secure mobile and web-enabled app that automates this process and allows people in Orange County, California to submit requests for financial assistance to the nonprofit’s Homelessness Prevention Program. As part of the nonprofit’s Homelessness Prevention Program, the app has enabled Orange County United Way to connect 7,874 families with funds reserved for COVID related emergency assistance that were part of a $5.35 million Pandemic Relief Fund. By using the cloud, the nonprofit staff were able to quickly connect those in need faster and more efficiently. The AssistOC solution leverages a combination of front-end AWS services, such as AWS Amplify, Amazon Lex, and Amazon Connect, as well as the foundational services such as Amazon S3 and AWS Lambda. Read more about their story.

Learn more about how the cloud helps communities prevent and combat homelessness.

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