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HCDI Living with COVID-19: Balancing Precaution with Mission

Since March 2020, Home City Development Inc. (HCDI) has embraced a balancing act: Implementing major pandemic precautions to ensure that residents and staff are healthy and safe; while continuing on in its mission — to supply decent, affordable and well-managed housing for individuals and families and ultimately facilitating growth, health, and stability in the local community. Here is what we have been up to.

Our property management partner, Housing Management Resources (HMR), has been taking every precaution, and utilizing an onsite skeleton staff — the key players have been the maintenance technicians. Technicians are consistently responding to emergencies while maintaining safety for the residents and themselves.

Top of a full-page Republican ad HCDI and HMR ran in early May to show appreciation to the staff for their hard work.
“It’s not easy running around with mask and gloves in 85-degree weather.” Alex Figueroa, HMR Maintenance Supervisor, explained. “When this started, I showed up to [a resident’s] door with mask and gloves, and an elderly lady answered. That’s when it clicked: It’s not about me getting sick, it’s about not getting her sick.” That message is emphasized to the technician team. “I don’t want to be sitting at home at night wondering if I got someone sick,” Figueroa said.

In describing a positive team aspect, Figueroa explained, “The office team supports us 100%. Whatever we need, they make sure we get it. They know we’re on the front lines…we’re a priority…and they’re very appreciative.” And what keeps him going amongst all of the challenges? “We love our residents. When we show up, we are the heroes. We fix their problems and they are very appreciative. It’s satisfying…it makes it all worthwhile.”

The Resident Engagement team has also been hard at work to continue their mission while honoring the restrictions and precautions in place. It has been especially important to ensure that residents are aware of the federal COVID-19 support that is available. “We’re making residents aware of the benefits that are out there and helping them to apply and to access these benefits.” Carol Soules, Manager of Resident Engagement said. For example, the RAFT program (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition) provides funding for issues like short-term assistance for tenants who are behind on their rent due to the Coronavirus. Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) is another federal resource that is available. P-EBT assists families who had been receiving free or reduced-price school meals, providing additional food support to cover the gap while schools are closed. Since Springfield is a “Community Eligible” city the funds went to all Springfield public school students. Some residents didn’t realize that they were eligible and the Resident Engagement team has been making sure that they look out for the card in the mail.
Josh Valle, Agnes Frias, and Sister Anna Muhammed (NOFA Mass) working in the garden with safety procedures in place.
Meanwhile at HCDI’s Tapley Community Garden, the Food Security and Health Initiative, though significantly altered, continues to operate and serve the community. Anthony Escalera a resident youth leader and his co-workers have been working diligently, guided by Sister Anna Muhammad of Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts. He explained that last year there were more residents maintaining the garden, “Now we have a maximum of four in the garden at one time.” They are meticulous in practicing safe behaviors due to COVID-19: wearing masks, social distancing, and staying home if they feel sick. “Working with a mask…it’s harder to breathe and we have to take more breaks,” he noted.

One of the biggest changes is in the process of distributing the vegetables. The fresh organic produce is free to the community, and this year a youth leader monitors the health of the residents during distribution. That youth leader is usually Escalera. “If someone is sick and they touch the vegetables, that could infect someone else. We have to be really cautious.”

Bernard Harvey, Sister Anna Muhammed, and Escalera planting in early June while wearing masks.
The Tapley Garden is traditionally a community effort where learning is shared reciprocally among other community groups. This year due to COVID restrictions that is not possible. In order to share knowledge in the community, Resident Engagement has built a new website that provides online resources – One website page is devoted to videos that the youth leaders have been creating in the garden. These videos cover best practices in urban gardening with topics ranging from preparing soil and composting, to planting specific varieties of vegetables, as well as other tutorials.

When asked if the challenges are worth it, Escalera said, “I like this whole idea because it helps other people. It’s a stress reliever, [and I’ve made] friends.” He emphasized that this is definitely a team effort, “My favorite part is my co-workers, they make the job better and easier. I couldn’t even do half of this by myself.” In addition to Escalera, this team includes youth leaders Brian Medina, Agnes Frias, Josh Valle, Bernard Harvey, Lymarie Albaladejo, and Ariel Arroyo.