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Akron housing authority creates fund to help residents, many hardest-hit by crisis

Posted at 4:32 PM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 22:49:30-04

AKRON, Ohio — Audrey Blasdel is doing her best to keep it together during the COVID-19 pandemic, but as a single mother who is not currently receiving a paycheck, her life can be very stressful.

"It wears you down. It takes a toll on you mentally and emotionally," Blasdel said. "It creates a lot of anxiety and depression honestly."

Blasdel, 38, has two sons, ages five and seven. The family lives at a home on Tomahawk Drive in Akron owned by Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority.

In February, Blasdel took medical leave from her job as a case manager at a non-profit in Canton after she developed an illness that affected her blood platelet and liver enzyme levels.

In March, she notified her employer she was ready to return. However, Blasdel said she was given a choice to take temperatures of people coming inside of the building or take an indefinite furlough. She didn't want to risk with close contact with others because of the recent illness, so she opted for the furlough.

"We were cresting the hill. I had a full-time job, getting a normal paycheck and then knocked right back down, she said.

With only child support money coming in, Blasdel worries about having enough cash to pay bills, buy food and afford rent.

"I was able to reinstate my food stamps through SNAP benefits so we at least have that," she said.

AMHA serves about 10,000 families and owns and operates 5,000 public housing units.

Through "Building for Tomorrow", the agency has established a fund to help AMHA residents impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The fund will assist residents with things like rent and utility assistance.

According to the agency, 48 percent of AMHA workable residents were employed at the beginning of 2020. Sixty-six percent of these individuals worked in industries, including food service, retail, transportation, warehouse, facilities management, temporary agencies, IT, childcare, non-profit, faith-based/churches and education.

Brian Gage, the executive director of AMHA, said many of these occupations are non-essential and there has been a drastic increase in the number of residents losing their jobs.

"One of the things that's very important to recognize with lower income families is they don't have a safety net or a nest egg, so even a small reduction in hours can directly affect their livelihood," Gage said.

AMHA leaders say monthly rent ranges from $50 to $800 per month depending on income. According to Gage, requests for change in income, through March, have roughly doubled from what the agency typically sees.

Gage believes the fund to help residents is critical because COVID-19 has the potential to devastate the poorest in the community.

"We foresee that there will be a lot of needs ranging from transportation needs to childcare needs to food or medication," he said.

Blasdel has reported her change in income and is expecting a lower rent as a result of her furlough. She's now taping into her modest savings account, which she had hoped to use for a trip to Disney World, to use for basic necessities. She understands that many other families are also making tough choices in this day-by-day struggle.

"I think there's going to be so much fallout from this and people are really going to need help."

You can find information on how to help here.