It was through a student internship that Katherine Smith, Covia’s Director of Social Services, became interested in working with older adults. As she worked towards her Bachelor’s of Social Work degree at Cal State Los Angeles, “when it came time to pick an internship and where we’re going to be going, my first choice was to work with kids.” She didn’t get her first choice. Instead, she ended up in a gerontology internship. “I’m like, what is gerontology? But then I fell in love with it.”
So it made sense to her to promote an internship program partnering with Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators to encourage a new generation of social workers.
Covia has been offering internships for the past 5 years, associated with USC’s Davis School of Gerontology and CSULA; this fall, they have launched a new partnership with the Social Work department at San Jose State University.
“Before we have an intern at our sites, we want to make sure we’re going to be a good fit for them and they’ll be a good fit for us,” says Shannon Wetters, Lead Resident Service Coordinator at Emerson Village in Pomona. “Are they looking for administrative work? Are they looking for management research? Or are they interested in actually working one on one with older adults? If their goal is to work with older adults, if that’s their true passion, then here at Emerson, they are a perfect fit.”
Interns spend 20 to 24 hours per week working with residents. Due to COVID-19, some of the work is now done remotely, but the Covia team ensures that the interns still get the experience they’re looking for. At Emerson Village, the intern is setting up phone visits with residents, or meet at an appropriate distance from residents in Wetters’ large office while she listens to the interaction, sitting in the hallway.
Pamela Ogawa-Boon, Lead Resident Service Coordinator at Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto, is supervising her first intern this fall. A Masters of Social Work student at San Jose State working toward her certificate in gerontology, Alanah Rosembloom will spend 24 hours per week assisting residents at Lytton Gardens as well as at Shires Memorial Center in San Jose. As a first time mentor, Ogawa-Boon is looking forward to bouncing ideas back and forth with someone eager to be part of the process of serving seniors. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” she says.
The influence of the internship program has reached far beyond Covia’s communities. In addition to the work these interns have done in communities where Covia has Resident Service Coordinator contracts, they have taken what they’ve learned to the communities – and countries – they call home.
Wetters has mentored interns from all over the world, providing experience for students from China, Mexico, and currently South Korea. Wetters shares that her current intern Seungjae Lee, whose family owns a nursing home, “wants to be able to take a lot of the knowledge he’s getting here and take it back to his family. Additionally, he wants to start educating the younger population, teaching them how to prepare their loved ones for the aging process.”
“They’re learning a lot here and they want to take it back there and start something new that they don’t have in their country right now,” says Wetters. She shares that her intern from Mexico five years previously “had no idea if she’d even want to work with older adults but it turned out she really found a passion for it.” As a result, “she was hoping to take this information that she gleaned and take it back to Mexico and start teaching family and friends and then hopefully develop a business from that.”
“A lot of people don’t know about service coordination,” Wetters continues. “I didn’t know about it until I went to the University of La Verne, and there was an informational meeting and I thought, I want to do that.”
As a result of Covia’s internship program, still more people are discovering or deepening their passion and skill for working with older adults.
Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators (RSCs) help residents at affordable communities throughout California connect to vital services – work that is more important than ever during the COVID-19 crisis.
“RSCs have shown up to work each day from the start of this pandemic and have adapted to providing services to our most vulnerable population while maintaining strict physical distancing,” says Katherine Smith, Senior Director of Social Services.
As programs and normal services have stalled, the continued work of RSCs ensure that older adults throughout the state can continue to receive the help and care that they need. Under normal circumstances, RSCs coordinate a wide variety of services, ranging from offering social and cultural programs within their communities to helping residents access benefit programs and medical care. During the shelter in place order, RSCs have continued connecting residents to essential services, which now includes getting access to food deliveries, masks, and hand sanitizer.
At Redwood Shores in Vallejo, RSC Jennifer Wright is working with Panera Bread to coordinate donations of unsold fresh food. “I am happy to report that with each donation we have been able to feed all of the residents,” Wright says.
Wright also worked with the city to secure donations of laundry soap, hand soap, and canned goods. “I also got a donation of 5.5 gallon liquid hand sanitizer when hand sanitizer was sparse,” she says. “But I can’t take the credit for it all as my site has really come together as a community. We have residents who go to church together, that cook up to 20 hot meals each Saturday giving it to residents. Another resident made and donated 100 cloth masks for staff and residents!”
Esther Koc, RSC for Covia’s Presidio Gate Apartment in San Francisco, has solicited donations for face coverings for staff as well as residents. “All essential, onsite staff have been supplied with reusable face coverings since April. All PGA residents were also supplied as of early May.” Esther is now working on securing reusable face coverings for residents at two other communities. “We cannot make people wear them but providing them and exhausting all our options allows us to say we did all we could.”
There’s a lot of education that goes along with keeping people safe and healthy. “I find there continues to be confusion with residents about wearing masks when exiting their units,” says Koc. “Many accuse onsite staff of being infected due to us wearing them. But I continue to educate that protecting self also protects others. We all need to do our part to keep our communities safe and well.”
RSCs provide residents with easy ways to prioritize their overall wellness as they shelter in place. “Residents are following the shelter-in-place guidelines well, but as the time passes by, they were noticeably becoming weaker due to lack of exercise,” says Sara Choi, RSC at Vista Towers in Los Angeles. “We have been following up with the residents to encourage them to at least walk in the hallway since Vista Tower has no garden or open space for residents to walk safely. We provided them resources of YouTube senior exercise links and encouraged them to do some exercises using YouTube. We also printed out simple exercises for those who do not have a smart phone or any kind of device.”
Wellness includes staying socially connected, which is an important part of the RSCs’ role as people are unable to gather in groups. Smith notes that ending social isolation is the #1 goal of resident service coordinators, and staying physically distant is hard for the RSCs as well as the residents. “RSCs have gotten creative though. Every resident at every site is reached out to once a week. We miss our residents but do what we must to protect them.”
Choi says, “We have been periodically contacting residents via phone to check in on them to make sure they have everything they need and socialize with them so that they won’t feel lonely and isolated. Since they know us already and have a trusted relationship built up, they were feeling more comfortable talking to us.”
“During the shelter in place, I have gotten the chance to get closer to my residents by calling them weekly,” says Wright. “Redwood Shores has really shown me that even while social distancing, we can still come together as a community, just six feet apart.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, Covia is dedicated to supporting team members as they provide essential care throughout our communities. Part of this support is the ‘Essential Support’ program, which was put into effect on April 29th. This program includes financial support to help with unexpected costs, time off, choice of a fun “family time” membership, and merit increases.
As Covia CEO Kevin Gerber noted in a letter to employees with the announcement of the program, “We are so proud of the work our employees have been doing under difficult circumstances to make sure that our residents are safe and well cared for. The Essential Support program offers more support to all of our employees who are providing essential services for life and safety.”
The Essential Support program began as a survey, when Covia leadership reached out to employees throughout the organization to gauge how best to provide support during this time. Based on survey responses from over 600 employees and in the spirit of Covia’s Guiding Principles, the program provides assistance in areas where staff showed interest and need. These benefits fall into different categories including merit increases, help with expenses, time off, paid leave, and protective equipment.
The Essential Support Program
As part of the Essential Support program, beginning in May, all employees at Covia communities who joined Covia before January 2020 will receive a merit increase. This is paired with up to $500 to go toward essential expenses such as groceries and childcare.
On top of monetary benefits, the program also includes the ability to earn up to 1 floating holiday per month to use as needed and a commitment that employees will not lose wages due to COVID-19. If a Covia employee contracts COVID-19 or is waiting on test results, the organization will ensure that team members are properly compensated. This includes coordinating with State Disability Insurance (SDI) benefits and ensuring staff have enough paid time off or paid sick leave for wages not covered by SDI.
In addition to the personal protective equipment (PPE) that is in use at the communities, Covia is also supplying cloth masks to employees that they can take home to their families. The Essential Support program also offers a benefit employees can share with their family. They can choose between a Disney+ membership, a Netflix membership, an Amazon Prime membership, or a Costco Goldstar membership, which can be utilized now for shopping or entertainment, or a Fandango Movie Card that can be used after the crisis is over.
“In creating this program, we started with a simple goal – support our team members holistically,” says Prab Brinton, Vice President of HR. “We understood the financial strain COVID-19 had caused and were committed to providing support to help ease the financial burden – and, we wanted to do more. We wanted to provide the gift of time to rest and recharge. Time to share with their children, spouses, and loved ones – even if it was something as simple as watching movies on Netflix, enjoying the classics on Disney +, or shopping on Amazon for some home essentials. Our team members are more than a financial transaction, they are what make Covia a unique place to work.”
Thank you to all Covia employees who are ensuring residents are receiving the best care during this difficult time. Covia employees who are interested in learning more about the Essential Support program, please reach out to your HR representative. And if you are interested in joining the Covia team, please visit our careers site!
Happy Employee Appreciation Day! We are so excited to celebrate all of the amazing people who help Covia support older adults around the Bay Area and beyond. In honor of this holiday, we were inspired to share stories about our incredible employees from throughout the organization.
Lizette Suarez, Well Connected Español Program Manager
Lizette came to WCE without having ever worked with older adults, but her humor, energy, dedication, passion, and skills leave me believing that she was the only person for the job. As a one-woman team for the first year, she made our fantasy of diversifying Well Connected a robust reality and has successfully created a virtual community for nearly 100 older adults living across 5 states!
Amber Carrol, Director of Well Connected
Rita Mukhsinova, Ruth’s Table Manager
Rita implements gallery exhibits and events of incredibly high quality, which challenges preconceptions of senior living communities. A Bethany Center resident recently commented that a gallery lecture, “was so intellectual and stimulating. Sometimes people think that just because you’re older you won’t get it. The whole gallery and its programming is so intriguing.”
Katie Wade, Director of Social Call
Resident Service Coordination
Kristy Huang, Resident Wellness Director at Casa De Los Amigos
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Kristy Huang, Resident Wellness Director at Casa De Los Amigos in Redondo Beach for her hard work and dedication. Kristy went above and beyond with coordinating IWISH (Integrated Wellness in Supportive Housing) programs by herself after her partner RWD moved to another site. In spite of the difficult situation, Kristy has been doing an awesome job balancing health presentations, exercise programs, social workshops, art therapy classes and more while managing it all on her own. She kept her professionalism and still manages to serve residents with a great smile. I am grateful and appreciate her willingness to go the extra miles.
Sarah Choi, Lead Resident Service Coordinator
Elvyra Abare, Canterbury Woods Executive Director, and Wei Chang, Canterbury Woods Transportation Manager
The incident/accident I experienced on January 21st on the way to a Covia meeting in Walnut Creek re-affirmed the correct decision I made about entering the Canterbury Woods community. Elvyra, the CW Director, finding me bleeding profusely, took charge and her calm voice and clear directions soothed my state of mind and prevented me from over-reacting. She treated me like I was her mother and that had a profound effect on my perspective of the situation. Where could I find such support in a moment of distress? Canterbury Woods of course…
And Wei, the transportation manager, who had to revise his driving plans because I did not heed to his rules about getting in the limousine, and who understands so well the flaws of human nature. Wei is a master at decision-making, is a compassionate human being and surprised me when I came out of E.R. Wei was there waiting for me and worried about my nutritional needs. Wei easily combined his responsibilities with the CW group he was driving to the Covia meeting and giving me his caring attention. Wei is a multi-tasking man with a heart. Thank you both, Elvyra and Wei.
Canterbury Woods Resident
San Francisco Towers Staff
Thank you! We have just been through an ordeal that I would have had difficulty managing if not for our staff at the SFTowers.
One morning, I heard my husband calling for me. I found him lying in a pool of blood in our hallway near the front door. I called Security and when someone arrived he wisely called our 2nd floor. Two Skilled Nursing staff took my husband’s vitals and called for an ambulance. At the hospital, we found he had dislocated his shoulder.
When we arrived back at SFT, our front desk called for a wheelchair to get us to our apartment. Almost immediately Grace Tom from Resident Health Services, an angel, arrived and took over. She organized everything, meals delivered that day, assistance, doctors orders to the PT people, and for our new doctor to make a house call. Dr. Aissatou Haman came to our apartment and scheduled my husband to see an orthopedic doc and have x-rays done.
While the above was happening, Troy Stewart, Housekeeping Manager, sent someone up to clean up the blood residue I had missed on the floor and the walls. Thank you to our staff for everything. We are most grateful for the care and attention we received in our hour of need. Everyone here knew what to do and did it.
San Francisco Towers Resident
Accounts Payable Team
In our Finance Department, Accounts Payable is responsible for making sure that every invoice gets paid, and Deanna Garcia and Stephanie Canady are an amazing team. Every once in a while you get lucky and find an employee that is a quiet constant, always comes to work on time, hardly every misses a day of work and is dedicated to doing a great job. Deanna is that person! Stephanie is one of those people that is dedicated to not only doing her job well, but she also makes work fun! I really appreciate her quick witted humor! She makes me laugh and smile no matter what problem we are trying to solve.
Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources
Grant Edelstone, Senior Director of Risk Management, Compliance & Risk
Grant is one of those people that you can always count on. He always gives solid, well thought-out advice and is never too busy to lend a hand. I appreciate his calm, professional approach.
Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources
The stories mentioned display only a fraction of the hard work and dedication that Covia employees bring to their job every single day. Thank you to everyone who supports our organization. You are a valued part of our team!
* Some of these stories have been edited to protect resident’s privacy.
Leon Kennedy has lived and worked in Oakland, California for over 25 years and has been a resident of Oak Center Towers, a Covia Affordable Community, for seven. If you are out, about, and aware, you may just run into him on an Oakland street — where he is busy capturing on canvas the people and scenes of Bay Area life. Leon paints on “everything.” Some of his most impressive works have been captured on bed sheets he has found on the streets. Works on wood, tables and chairs, glass, and metal (even hubcaps) have been known to grace a thorough Kennedy collection. Many of the materials he works with come from the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland. He creates his artworks with markers, paints, crayons, beads, glitter, cotton, yarn, and rope.
Leon is rated one of the top 100 self-taught artists in the country. His works are coveted by prominent Folk Art collectors everywhere. Serious collectors take huge store in the fact that Mr. Kennedy’s works appear in the Smithsonian Institute, which adds value to the ownership of a Kennedy original.
Community is a central part of Kennedy’s vision of life, as shown in his painting, “Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” Kennedy explains that his art stems from his love for humanity, and he especially loves to paint the faces of the people that matter most to him, his close friends and family and neighbors.
“I love to see a picture of the beauty of old faces, young faces, all colors,” he says. “Everyone has their own beauty, everyone has character, and everyone goes through something. My work is based on community and family, and I love doing the faces and showing the heart and love. The heart of the community — you call it love.”
It is profoundly important for Leon Kennedy that his art serves the community. In a recent application Kennedy made for a public mural, a panelist said, “Mr. Kennedy actively builds community through his art.” His proposal was approved and the mural will be completed in 2020 at the African American Museum and Library.
“The main idea of my art is concern for people, encouraging someone else,” he said. “I love when someone loves the work, and feels touched. We’re here to serve and love and encourage one another. When I get a vision, I hope it helps someone.”
He has long had a vision as an artist. “As a child I knew that art was my vocation,” Kennedy said. Born in 1945 in Houston, Texas, he moved to the Bay Area in 1965. He lived in San Francisco’s Mission District in the 1970s and painted his first public mural in Hunter’s Point during that time. In Oakland, Kennedy began by painting on cloth, but he soon ran out of canvas, so he started painting on bed sheets and other found materials.
It seems fitting that he often finds his “canvases” on the street. “My art studio is the street,” Kennedy explained. “I paint on bed sheets that I hang on wooden fences and building walls.”
Kennedy paints nearly every day, often working on a bed sheet or a huge piece of cloth spread out on the floor of his studio apartment. He paints while kneeling, as if immersed in prayer. He explains that artistic visions constantly come to him. Living at Oak Center Towers provides him with a steady home base as well as a community from which to draw inspiration. “I love the variety of people here, I love my view of downtown,” he said. “The staff here is so supportive; anything that needs fixed is taken care of right away. I’m also inspired by the other artists here. I’d love to bring them all together so the world can see our creativity.”
Leon Kennedy will have a public mural called Oakland Faces on display at the Oakland Public Library in January. His work will be on exhibition at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center in February as a part of the Black History Month celebration.
*This article was previously published in the Fall 2019 edition of Community Matters with quotes adapted from a Street Spirit article from April 2014.
The Thanksgiving season at Covia is a time for great food, from the Support Services Nuthin’ But Sides potluck to the annual Thanksgiving meals put on by communities and Senior Resources. Two of these Thanksgiving meals, the Senior Resources San Francisco Thanksgiving dinner and the Annual Oak Center Towers’ Thanksgiving Luncheon, give a great peek into what it’s like to celebrate the holiday season at Covia.
SF Senior Resources:
On November 20th, Senior Resources San Francisco hosted its fifth annual Thanksgiving dinner – part of its monthly Senior Lunch program, usually held on the fourth Wednesday of the month in the Parish Hall of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church. With a jazz trio playing in the background, nearly 75 seniors gathered at long tables for a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, and pumpkin pie for dessert.
Sandra, who is a regular at the senior lunch, says the service she receives is what makes this meal special. “All those other places you have to stand in line, out in the cold,” she says. After having wrist surgery, she finds carrying trays difficult. “Here, you’re indoors, you’re sitting at a table like we are, there’s nice music playing in the background, and you just sit and they serve you, instead of you carrying a big heavy tray.”
Vivian, who has been attending for the past three years, had a different experience: “At first I had trouble because I’m used to potlucks with my friends, so I wanted to help. I realized I’m supposed to sit down, so that was the hardest part.”
Amy Brokering, Director of Senior Resources in San Francisco, says that the service was a deliberate choice when the program was first started six years ago to make it feel more special for those who gather. Since its inception, the lunch has grown from fewer than 20 seniors to, at its largest, around 80 participants – with volunteers, close to 100 people. “It’s a community,” she says. “They support each other.”
Volunteer Pam agrees. As she serves in her fourth Thanksgiving for the program, she says, “The memories of all the differences we were able to produce is really beautiful. We have a core group of about five or six of us and we work really well together. We have a lot of joy in being here for these people and knowing it’s a community. It just makes us feel good.”
Three additional volunteers from Lindquist CPA joined the team to help serve the Thanksgiving meal. A vendor partner with Covia, Lindquist has been helping with the Thanksgiving senior lunch for the past three years. As a surprise at the end of the meal, the team from Lindquist presented Amy Brokering with a check for the Covia Foundation for $2,000 – the largest gift this program has received.
Oak Center Towers:
Also on November 20th, Oak Center Towers, a Covia Affordable community, hosted its 18th Annual Thanksgiving Lunch. Held in the Oak Center Towers multipurpose room, the lunch invites residents to enjoy a special holiday meal in their community.
“It’s a much loved and appreciated, long-standing tradition that residents seem to really look forward to,” says Aliona Gibson, who joined Covia this year as Activities Coordinator at Oak Center Towers. “There was buzz for weeks before the date.”
Over 100 Oak Center Towers residents and guests took part in the annual lunch, arriving early to socialize with their family and friends before the food was served. The room was a pleasant hubbub of conversation as the group shared time together along with the Thanksgiving meal.
The multipurpose room at Oak Center Towers was decorated for the occasion with fall colors, flowers, and even featured a display with the community’s initials spelled out using water bottles. A tree with residents’ thankful wishes fashioned out of paper leaves adorned one wall, a happy reminder of the nature of the season.
Oak Center Towers’ staff and volunteers from Covia Support Services worked together to plate and serve the meal, which included holiday staples like turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac and cheese and green beans as well as fried rice and steamed vegetables. For dessert, there was a choice of apple pie or ambrosia salad and each resident was able to toast the season with their own glass of sparkling cider.
“It was a pleasure and fun to work alongside the Covia family to create such a wonderful experience. I felt the love and genuine care, concern and effort put forth towards making the event memorable,” Gibson noted. “I could not have asked for a better inaugural Thanksgiving at OCT.”
Over the past year, residents at Oak Center Towers have been fostering their creativity through art classes and art programs. Aliona Gibson, Activities Coordinator at Oak Center Towers, has been introducing residents to a new art project every month in addition to supporting the community’s connection with the Art with Elders program.
Art with Elders at Oak Center Towers
Art with Elders provides weekly art classes led by professional art instructors to over 450 residents in communities around the Bay Area. Their classes focus on teaching art skills such as composition and color as well as fostering community. Participants are invited to submit their artwork for the annual exhibit that showcases their hard work to the public around the Bay Area.
This year, artwork created by residents at Oak Center Towers for the Art with Elders program is featured in the 27th Annual Art with Elders Exhibit, currently on display at the Gerald Simon Auditorium at Laguna Honda Hospital through November 18th. Aliona Gibson and Oak Center Towers residents attended the exhibit’s Opening Celebration on October 27th where, Gibson notes, residents were “very proud and excited about their work being on display.”
One resident’s art was even selected to be printed onto greeting cards that could be purchased at the event. Gibson purchased one of these cards, saying that “it was invaluable to me to have such a beautiful and professional reproduction of the resident’s work.”
Beyond their work at Oak Center Towers, Art with Elders also provides classes at Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto, and Executive Director Mark Campbell and Instructor-Exhibits Manager Darcie O’Brien spoke as part of Covia’s 2019 Creative Aging Symposium, which celebrates the importance of creativity in creating a sense of self and living with purpose. The Creative Aging Symposium will return on January 29th, 2020 to explore more aspects of creative aging featuring speakers with backgrounds in eco-friendly fashion, choreography, and medicine.
Monthly Art Projects
In addition to the Art with Elders program, Gibson has been introducing residents at Oak Center Towers to monthly art projects that allow them to try out different mediums and materials. Residents have created everything from tie-dye t-shirts and terrariums to painted flower pots and tissue flowers.
One popular event even had an edible component where residents created rainbow fruit skewers with strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupes, pineapple, green grapes, and blueberries. Gibson notes that the event was particularly popular because residents “got to take them home and some residents ate while creating.”
Beyond the monthly art projects, there is also a weekly coloring activity where a small group of residents gather to color with gel pens, markers, and colored pencils.
Oak Center Towers’ diverse population means that not all of the residents share the same language, which can make craft projects and teaching difficult. Gibson says, “There is usually one person who speaks English who will relay what I am saying but mostly they go by pictures. I always bring examples of the craft we are doing, sometimes a prototype and sometimes pictures from the internet.”
Between the monthly art projects, regular coloring group, and Art with Elders program, Oak Center Towers has created a number of beautiful pieces that have been displayed around the community on top of the art accepted into the Art with Elders’ exhibit.
The Art with Elders Annual Exhibit is open until November 18th at the Gerald Simon Auditorium at Laguna Honda Hospital. After November 18th, the exhibit will move to the Rincon Center in Downtown San Francisco through January 18th, 2020. Artwork from the Art with Elders exhibit is also available on their website.
*Image of Oak Center Towers group courtesy of Art with Elders
On July 11th, Ruth’s Table, a program of Bethany Center Senior Housing, is celebrating its grand re-opening at a new dedicated gallery space located at 3160 21st Street, San Francisco. The opening reception from 6:00-9:00 pm launches a year-long exploration of Bauhaus through a series of exhibits.
Founded in 2009 with the support of artist Ruth Asawa, Ruth’s Table began as an arts initiative integrated into Bethany Center, an affordable senior housing community. The new building will serve as a gallery and creative learning space where people of all ages can come together to learn, connect, and create.
Jessica McCracken, Director of Ruth’s Table, says, “Ruth’s Table provides a safe, inclusive and welcoming space for the community to engage with arts, build meaningful connections and feel the uplifting joy of community. Our programs encourage personal growth and promote lifelong learning, while strengthening creativity, health, and independence to greatly enhance one’s quality of life.”
The first exhibit in the new space, Beyond the Warp and Weft, launches a year-long inaugural program of contemporary exhibitions celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus. The exhibit brings together 14 artists to illuminate the diversity of contemporary ideas of weaving and textile, highlight innovative craft thinking, and chart the future trajectory of the practice. The exhibition presents a stylistically diverse selection of works that combine hand weaving, sound, science, sculpture and site-specific installation.
Throughout the year, four exhibitions will examine the enduring impact of Bauhaus ideas on weaving and textile design, color interaction and theory, photography, and activism in the arts, with a particular emphasis on the way contemporary art practices have evolved with the innovations in materials and technology.
For more information, please visit https://www.ruthstable.org/.
In theory, Fair Housing is a straightforward concept: “At the end of the day, it’s that you don’t have special treatment for one resident over another,” says Karim Sultan, Covia’s Vice President of Affordable Housing. But in practice, it may not be as easy as it sounds.
The Fair Housing Act guarantees protection from discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. It is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which subsidizes Covia’s six Affordable Communities.
“I think a big myth is that fair housing is something that’s automatic and that you don’t have to be incredibly intentional about it. You can very easily be in violation of fair housing in two seconds if you’re not careful,” says Sultan. “You have to really be aware of it at all times and be very diligent about maintaining it.”
April is Fair Housing Month, but Covia Affordable Communities works hard to practice that intentionality in fair housing all year round. “We do an annual fair housing training with a fair housing attorney religiously every year,” Sultan reports. “But we also have periodic fair housing check-ins when we do our monthly meetings. It’s something you can’t reiterate enough. If you say it a thousand times, say it a thousand more times. Because as soon as it starts to be not present in the mind, things can happen.”
The planning for fair housing starts long before people move into a community, Sultan explains. “When we open up a wait list, we have to have a HUD approved marketing plan and tenant selection plan. And so those plans really seek to ensure that the process by which you move people into the building is fair.”
Once people move in, “you have a lease and house rules that again you have to be really diligent about because the lease is the same for everybody. Everybody follows the same house rules. So it’s really incumbent upon the site staff to make sure that they’re treating everybody fairly.”
If residents do feel there has been a violation of their rights, they can go through an appeal process. At Covia, “I haven’t had to reverse an administrator for violating fair housing up to now. It could happen. It just hasn’t happened as of yet,” says Sultan. “But I do remind them always that sometimes it’s not what you do but how you do it. Are you communicating thoroughly enough when you’re having people stick to their lease or talking to them about the violation of house rules. Are you ensuring that you’re communicating in a way where they feel like, ‘This is standard, and this is not just targeted at me’?”
Although not subject to the same federal law as the HUD-subsidized communities, Covia’s Home Match program is also attuned to the need for fair housing. Home Match, Covia’s Shared Housing program, connects homeowners with extra space with home seekers who need a place to live in the expensive Bay Area housing market. Home Match works with home owners and home seekers to create a Living Together Agreement that may include a home seeker providing services, such as shopping or pet care, in exchange for a reduction in rental costs.
Tanya Ahern, Program Director for Home Match in Fremont, previously served on a board of a Fair Housing organization and brings her experience to the table when helping to match homeowners and home seekers. “With shared housing I think the most important thing is to make sure that you don’t have identifying characteristics that go into referring people so that that way it’s based purely on their merit and their financial means to pay and it’s not based on race or gender,” says Ahern.
“I see a lot of people who have been turned away from housing because of race, because of disability status,” says Ahern. “Because Home Match prescreens, it makes people more comfortable and more open to housing with people that maybe they might not have considered before. I think it’s really helping house people who didn’t have a fair shake in the world. I think it’s a perk that it’s helping house people who face challenges due to stigma.”
For Covia Affordable Communities, fair housing is part of its legal mandate, but Sultan observes it’s not just about complying with the legal requirements. It’s about making residents feel at home. “Over time, when residents witness the rules being applied equally, it does give them confidence that ‘this is a place where I can feel safe, where I won’t be targeted because of my race, because of my sexual orientation, because of my religion.’ And that’s very, very important because a big part of home is security and being safe.”
“As long as you own and manage communities, and you house people, fair housing is something you have to be constantly aware of,” Sultan says. “It never gets old. It never gets easy. It never gets stale. It’s just something you have to be really diligent about at all times.”