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Original Publication Date: December 7, 2020

Recently, Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies confirmed how valuable Resident Service Coordinators are to the older adults they serve in our communities, citing that "During the COVID-19 pandemic, service coordinators played a pivotal role in the support of older adult residents of publicly funded housing properties."

As a part of the study, Generations Housing Initiatives' Resident Service Coordinators were able to take part in the surveys that helped inform this critical research. We at The Habitat Company wanted to take a moment to share some of the findings from this amazing study, and also wanted to thank and acknowledge our RSCs for everything they do. We are so proud of our Resident Service Coordinators and are glad to see their hard work and dedication during this time highlighted in this informative research! Read on to see the Executive Summary of the work. Want to read the study in full? Click here.

Executive Summary

During the COVID-19 pandemic, service coordinators played a pivotal role in the support of older adult residents of publicly funded housing properties. Some independent housing operators employ service coordinators to increase residents’ self-sufficiency, physical security, social connections, and the delivery of long-term community-based supportive services. This report presents results from a survey conducted between June 23 and July 17, 2020 to explore the experiences of these service coordinators during the early months of COVID-19. At the time of the survey, about one-third of respondents were aware of at least one resident on the property who had tested positive for COVID-19.

The survey revealed the pandemic’s impact on the lives of older residents of publicly funded housing. Professional support systems that typically provided personal assistance and medical care were interrupted, threatening residents’ physical and mental health. Transportation and resource acquisition systems were also unsettled, creating barriers to activities of independent living such as shopping to acquire food and medication. Social challenges were particularly acute during the early months of the

pandemic. Residents demonstrated signs of anxiety and loneliness as their typical experiences of community life were muted. And, while health guidelines and novel benefit programs emerged at a steady clip, communication systems had to be modified from largely in-person formats to accommodate a population of older adults without consistent access to technological platforms.

Service coordinators utilized various approaches to meet residents’ needs:

Service coordinators assessed resident needs in an ongoing way. By implementing new well-check routines, many service coordinators replaced resident-initiated drop-in contacts with systematic outreach.

Service coordinators managed essential resources and supplies. Acquisition and distribution of food, medicine, household supplies, and PPE became a central focus for service coordinators. Service coordinators also helped residents apply for benefits and new programs. They liaised with community organizations to reformat volunteer programs from congregate to distanced, and to procure a wide variety of donated resources such as groceries, prepared food, household goods and face masks. They also managed property-wide distribution efforts and linked residents to volunteers who could procure medications or run specific errands.

Service coordinators addressed deficits in personal care and assistance. Service coordinators worked to compensate for pandemic-related interruptions in both professional and informal family care of residents.

Service coordinators built resident technological capacity. They helped residents access devices and internet services and they increased resident technological literacy. This technology became a foundational tool for many residents to order groceries, attend social events, maintain contact with family, receive medical care, and access public resources such as the library or senior center.

Service coordinators worked to combat resident loneliness and anxiety. They facilitated community connections through phone buddies and pen pal programs. They also developed virtual or intra-property communication and support systems by organizing phone trees, peer networks, and physical postings of residents’ personal expressions of messages and artwork around the properties.

Service coordinators ensured properties met emerging public health standards. As coronavirus-specific public health recommendations emerged, service coordinators implemented new facility management practices. They assisted with cleaning and sanitizing, reorganized public spaces, and enforced new limited access policies as well as performed screenings of property visitors. Many service coordinators worked remotely for at least some period to reduce contact with residents and other staff.

Service coordinators anticipated challenges ahead. While they worked with residents individually and developed socially distanced engagement strategies during the early pandemic period, service coordinators expect residents will need additional social engagement as well as professional mental health support to cope with long-term lifestyle changes as the pandemic experience wears on. Coordinators anticipate that they will need more support to maintain their effectiveness over the long term, especially to meet the needs of special populations such as non-English speaking residents. Many

survey respondents suggested that better access to technology will be needed over the long term. Coordinators also foresaw the need for additional staff to maintain facility management routines such as newly rigorous hygiene and safety practices. They predicted a need for additional community partnerships to maintain adequate access to resources.

Overall, the survey found that service coordinators experienced a greater sense of teamwork and shared mission among staff. They considered many of the changes implemented on their properties to be positive and necessary. Yet even as service coordinators have risen to the challenges of early crisis response, their role is not static. Needs will evolve over time depending on the length of the pandemic and the speed at which benefits and resources return to pre-pandemic levels. Survey respondents

worried that heightened stress and anxiety would take a toll on resident health and mental health as well as on the well-being of staff as time wore on. Said one respondent, “I just want to not live in fear anymore.”

Any opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and not those of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University or of any of the persons or organizations providing support to the Joint Center for Housing Studies. For more information on the Joint Center for Housing Studies, visit our website at

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