By: Ashley Blake, BSW
Resident services is an emerging field in the affordable housing industry that aims to keep individuals, families, and seniors stable in their homes. With roots in both the Supportive Housing and Housing First models, resident services programs are becoming a staple of the nonprofit sector and a fresh area of interest for social and human service workers across the country.
The resident services field is relatively new, and there is little formalized in the way of industry standards. A group of professionals and organizations from the affordable housing, city government, and social services realms in Oregon came together to create a State of the Industry report aimed at not only outlining a definition of resident services and its core components, but also bringing attention to this little-known yet increasingly prevalent work.
As defined by the report (see http://oregonon.org/files/2010/10/RSOP-Final-Report-final-version1.pdf), “Resident services connects tenants of affordable housing to services and programs that support housing stability, household opportunity, and advancement.” In a nutshell, resident services programs go beyond just addressing the specific needs of a family or individual in an effort to provide supports and resources beneficial to the entire community.
Additionally, the report stipulated that resident services programs offer two core services: housing stability services and household opportunity and advancement services.
Housing stability services include eviction prevention efforts (helping tenants find rental assistance), information and referral services (linking a resident to low-cost medical care, for example), and providing community-building activities such as potlucks, holiday celebrations, and neighborhood clean-up events.
Household opportunity and advancement services are often geared towards the specific population of a property. For instance, a resident services Coordinator (RSC) working at a senior building may focus on the provision of health and wellness services, and social and recreational activities, whereas a RSC at a multi-family property may work to coordinate more enhanced programming that focuses on asset-building (financial and adult education), youth activities, and employment services.
This ability to work with and for a diverse body of needs is part of what makes the resident services field, for trained social workers both new in their careers and seasoned, an attractive one. It allows for flexibility, creativity, and autonomy. On a daily basis, you’re both able to provide direct service and foster your program development skills— a combination of tasks to help make you, perhaps, impervious to the dreaded burn-out syndrome. And yet best of all, a position in the resident services field is an inspiring one, encompassing and encouraging of all the many possibilities for each and every one of us that stem from the simple luxury of having a roof over your head and support at your side.
For additional resources on resident services, including further explanation of the industry’s background, program specific suggestions for best practices, and outcome tracking tools, visit the National Resident Services Collaborative Web site at: http://www.residentservices.org. For information about employment and training opportunities, visit the American Association for Service Coordinators’ Web site at http://www.servicecoordinator.org. For a more localized perspective of the issue (and job opportunities in your area), check in with your neighborhood housing authority. Or, if possible, contact one of the affordable housing organizations in your area, as these agencies typically serve as a hub for resident services programs and are an excellent way to explore the profession and the needs of your community.
Ashley Blake, BSW, is the resident services manager for Northwest Housing Alternatives, a nonprofit organization that builds and develops affordable housing options for families, seniors, and people with special needs in Oregon.