TNQ’s Managing Director, Cheiktha Dowers, is a self-described “Florida girl.” However, no amount of natural disaster experiences could have prepared Dowers for the monumental task of creating a disaster recovery plan, policies and procedures for a global pandemic.

Dowers shares how TNQ and the Memphis Housing Authority have navigated COVID-19 regulations and HUD waivers, and what she believes executive directors and managers should be doing to keep planning and preparing for the road ahead.

Tennessee Quadel’s Managing Director, Cheiktha Dowers, has led TNQ and MHA through the COVID-19 pandemic.

See Disaster Recovery Planning Through a Long-Term Lens

When Dowers reviewed MHA’s policies as part of her response strategy for the COVID-19 pandemic, she realized most policies addressed short-term disasters. After a year of active disaster recovery planning and response, Dowers says her perspective on disaster recovery planning has changed. Other executive directors’ perspectives should, too.

“Because of the length of time that COVID has been around, it has forced me to look at disaster planning more long-term. With most disaster planning, you can project how long it will take. No one ever thought we would still be dealing with the effects of COVID a year later,” Dowers said. “It’s always harder to plan when you don’t know what you’re planning for or have a date that you are striving for. Dealing with something like the pandemic helped me know when we do disaster planning, we have to have long-term disaster recovery plans versus looking at things that are short-term.”

Test Your IT Systems Regularly

Dowers said one of the most important operational tasks is ensuring a housing authority’s IT system is up-to-date and up to the task when it comes to user capacity. Otherwise, a housing authority might not be able to assist residents, landlords or others needing questions answered.

“If you haven’t checked your capacity when all of these folks are trying to navigate your system, your system is going to crash,” Dowers said. “A lot of housing authorities have that problem because they haven’t fully tested and implemented systems that will allow them to continue to operate amid a large-scale natural disaster. Testing your IT systems, your telephones and computer equipment periodically to ensure you are ready if and when a disaster should occur is very important.”

Ensure HUD Compliance and Check Websites for Updates

Dowers believes a housing authority should have a dedicated compliance department or a compliance manager focused on reviewing HUD regulations and guidance. While Dowers recognizes this may not be a realistic goal for smaller housing authorities, the priority still must exist. Using industry websites, such as the ones found here, might make the task a bit easier for resource-strapped organizations.

“Amid a pandemic and where we are in the ever-changing environment, it’s critical to have the dedicated team or individual focused on HUD regulations or notices published daily to ensure their operations remain compliant,” Dowers said. “There are alert services housing authorities can register for. Housing authorities should also subscribe to major industry groups such as NLHA, PHADA and NAHRO to ensure they are up-to-date on information related to housing operations.”

Prepare for the End of Pandemic-Era Waivers While Helping Residents Now

As a response to the impact COVID-19 has had on job and income insecurity, HUD released an eviction moratorium and extended the moratorium through March 31, 2021 to help prevent widespread housing loss. In addition, many states and municipalities are now implementing Emergency Rental Assistance Programs to help residents in need. These programs require a quick start up and robust quality control of rental payments, causing a new concern for housing authorities already navigating waivers and notices. If your housing authority is interested in seeing how Quadel can help guide your organization through these changes and requirements, reach out to us.

Dowers says housing authorities and managers should prepare for April 1, 2021.

“Once the waivers are lifted, the administrative burden on the housing authority is significant. HAs need to prepare for what is to come. HUD already gives us a limited number of dollars to do what we do. Having a limited number of dollars only compounds the problem because you have double the amount on the backend with a little bit of money to get it done with,” Dowers said. “Dealing with the other side of the waivers will be the greatest challenge this year. Right now, we are trying to be proactive and reaching out to families experiencing issues to see what we can do to rectify some of the situations they are dealing with.”