NHPF-Authored Articles & Industry Reports

Multi-Housing News, September 2, 2021 Remaking Resident Services in a Time of Social Change by Kevin Lewis, Assistant VP, Resident Services & Deputy Executive Director, Operation Pathways

Current conditions require a concerted effort to address inequities in affordable housing, says Kevin Lewis of Operation Pathways. The success that residents in affordable housing achieve is even more pronounced now, in a time when our country is increasing its awareness and acknowledgment of historical social and racial disparities.

For example, on-site coaches (Resident Services Coordinators— RSCs) learn to redouble efforts to ensure residents feel seen, heard, valued and supported. Best practices call for preparation ahead of working with residents. Ideally, staff work to ensure that coaches not only understand the practical applications of the coaching, but more importantly, appreciate why and how using a new approach would benefit them and residents. One of the essential aspects of coaching programs for contracted service providers like FCC or Mathematica’s Goal4 It!™ is an understanding of the impact that historical racial inequity has played in how human services organizations have offered services to people of color. One of the shifts that such training encourages is how to move from sustaining people to transforming people. These practices enable participants and residents to better believe in themselves, gain strength from support and achieve goals. This is especially important at this time of societal consciousness and action to address and combat our country’s racial, social and economic disparities. “Coaching alone can’t resolve years of goals suppressed by systemic racism and social inequity,” said coach Carla Reid, RSC at St. Luke’s Plaza and a lead trainer. “But it can provide tools that people can use to transform aspects of their lives and kindle a flame to make empowering choices. We train our team and residents to embrace this mindset.”

Kevin Lewis

2020 was marked by several incidents that made us examine the impact of years of systemic racial oppression, and it has worn heavy on our hearts. Like many in our country, we asked how and why we have allowed inequity in important systems like education, criminal justice, employment, health care, housing, etc.—to become as integral to our American experience as baseball and apple pie.

These current conditions require a concerted effort to address inequities in affordable housing communities.

COACHING RELATIONSHIPS How can those in resident services tackle many of the key elements of systemic racism residents face? Experience shows that partnering with those in housing communities via a coaching relationship is key. An approach such as Family- Centered Coaching developed by The Prosperity Agenda with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, or EMPath’s Mobility Mentoring, work to meet the interconnected needs and desires of a participant’s life while working to dismantle educational disparities, underemployment, health care, financial literacy, food access, neighborhood safety, etc. A few years ago, we evaluated our programs and services and realized we needed to do more to create an environment where the desires of residents were at the forefront of our work. The genesis of any equitable relationship is hearing, seeing and actively listening to someone else. The next step is taking action to tangibly put resources and systems in place to address inequity in a real and sufficient way. The best coaching approaches provide a set of strategies, tools and resources that help human service organizations reinvent how they engage with families experiencing poverty. Coaching programs, by definition, offer ways for practitioners to create and sustain robust holistic services and programs that are only fully realized by partnering with families to address their needs and make progress on their goals. This kind of inclusive approach increases the likelihood of long-term success and transformational outcomes.


Model personal growth and connection Personal development is a big part of an organizational culture shift. Allow staff the time and space to grow and connect as individuals and embrace new methodologies. When leaders model these behaviors, they invite the same in staff, who in turn offer that security and comfort level to participants. Box-checking is never enough Initially, we noticed that the people we trained weren’t fully invested, opting to check boxes for an aspect of the training without fully embracing the “why” behind it. We moved away from the nuts and bolts of the training into understanding the FCC role and helping staff understand how this would make staff and residents feel. Use powerful questions to encourage reflection One of the core coaching skills is asking powerful questions. We inspire true buy-in by asking meaningful, open-ended questions. Everyone—from staff to leadership to participants—has hopes


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