Supporting families during COVID-19

Nyapak tried not to worry as she heard the number of COVID-19 cases was increasing both locally and nationally.

“I knew God would help me,” she said.

Then, in April, Nyapak felt very cold while at work and asked to see the nurse. Shortly after, she had trouble breathing and ended up in the emergency room. Nyapak had pneumonia and COVID-19.

“It was bad, really bad,” Nyapak said. “I was in the hospital for five days.”

When she was released, she was thankful to have a home where she and her daughter, who also contracted the virus, could safely recover and quarantine. Nyapak focused on recovering but worried about the bills. She went from working seven days a week to going over a month without work.

“I paid all my bills last month, but I don’t know what I’ll do next month,” Nyapak said.

While it’s true that anyone can contract COVID-19, it’s also true that those with lower or fixed incomes are often hit harder by the virus. Many of our society’s low-wage jobs are considered essential, yet they lack benefits like paid time off, the option to work remotely, and access to good quality, affordable health insurance. This means that minority communities – who most often hold these jobs – are facing a disproportionately higher risk when it comes to COVID-19’s health and economic impacts.

Nyapak is one of many Habitat for Humanity of Omaha homeowners affected by COVID-19. Our Homeownership Team has received many calls from concerned families. Nicky Sullivan, Homeownership Success Coordinator, has been keeping notes from every call. So far, eight households have reached out and said they’ve contracted COVID-19.

In an effort to help these families, Nicky gathered a list of community resources available. She happily shares them with anyone who calls.

“Homeowners are telling their friends about us,” Nicky said. “I give everyone the information by phone and have no problem with printing off 15 pages of resources and mailing it.”

Shortly after she started getting calls from families concerned about being able to make their mortgage payments, Nicky and her team created a special COVID-19 Forbearance Plan. This plan provides temporary relief from mortgage or Home Repair loan payments for families who have incurred a financial hardship due to COVID-19 allowing them to focus on purchasing food or paying other bills. As of June 23, 28 homeowners and Home Repair Program clients have opted in to a Habitat Omaha Forbearance Plan.

The Homeownership Team has heard from many people impacted by COVID-19 in a variety of ways, including a homeowner who is stuck in Africa with no one to watch his house, a homeowner who didn’t file taxes properly and had trouble receiving a stimulus check, and a homeowner’s daughter who worries about her mom having to choose between either staying home safe or putting food on the table.

Carly Buskirk, Program Associate, said soon-to-be homeowners are also concerned about contracting the virus and losing their job and income before closing on their home.

“When she was sick, Nyapak talked about being able to go back to her house and children,” Carly said. “Not everyone has that option.”

Carly said a future homeowner had to isolate away from his wife and children. Had he been in a Habitat Omaha house, he could have stayed in the basement and would have had his family safely nearby during these difficult times.

The Homeownership Team is trying their best to help Nyapak and anyone else who reaches out.

“I’ve always said, ‘any time you need a resource, feel free to give us a call, we’re not just about housing,’” Nicky said. “It’s been hard taking some of these phone calls, but we’re here to help and will try to support them through this.”