Following a series of successful partnerships with USDR, Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. (NPI) was looking to help tenants facing eviction prepare for court and apply for Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA). NPI, the community partner implementing Eviction Diversion for Memphis and Shelby County’s ERA program, wanted at-risk tenants to receive personalized communications that explained their rights, what help was available, and what steps they needed to take to fight their eviction. NPI also needed to coordinate with tenant attorneys to make sure the communications were accurate.
NPI’s ERA team was already notifying tenants that rent relief was available in printed postcards and emails. But this outreach only went so far - many people facing eviction were not aware of the ERA, and those who had applied often did not know the status of their application or how to prepare for court. NPI needed to systemize their communications so that the hardest to reach tenants had information on how to receive rent relief and what their rights were in the process.
The team implemented a series of automated, personalized communications sent to tenants facing eviction via text message, emails, and postcards.
They first tackled the postcard. In order to automate the process to ensure all tenants with eviction filings in Shelby County received a postcard, the team designed a script to scrape public court records for the addresses of tenants and landlords with eviction filings and judgments. The team redesigned two postcards, one notifying tenants how to access rent relief and representation, the other notifying landlords of how to refer their tenants for assistance and receive funds to settle their eviction judgment.Then, the team implemented a workflow within Airtable to start text notifications and to streamline email notifications going out to tenants. USDR trained the NPI team on how to send emails through Airtable using the program’s email templates as well as set up automations that trigger daily communications. The team then wrote a script in Airtable that would trigger a text to the tenant with information on their upcoming court date. Every digital communication included a personalized link to the tenant’s court record and information on the time, date and location of their hearing. The notifications also explained the COVID court backlogs that were resulting in incorrect “placeholder” court dates sent to tenants by the court process servers. USDR's notifications alerted tenants as soon as their court dates were reset, and explained to tenants why they were receiving incorrect dates. NPI additionally included digital handbooks in the texts and emails that explained a tenant’s rights in the process and what to expect on the day of court (e.g. where to park, what to wear, what to say to the judge). USDR trained NPI on how to edit and create scripts that would help run and build future automations.
"Through our partnership with USDR, thousands of tenants in Memphis and Shelby County have been able to access information about how to receive rent relief and fight their eviction. USDR's technical expertise took our work as tenant lawyers and housing policy advocates to the next level, allowing us to notify tenants of their options and their rights daily via email, text and phone call. These automations have helped relieve administrative burden so that our tenant attorneys can spend more time helping more tenants stay in their homes."
Before the systemized outreach, tenants said they were unsure of their court case dates, complained about the lack of transparency around the eviction process, and did not know how to apply or become eligible for the ERA. One ERA applicant facing eviction reported losing their job after taking the day off to attend their eviction hearing, just to find out the court date they had initially received from the process server was incorrect. Through improved communications and a more regular cadence of updates from NPI, NPI was able to increase transparency to help more tenants understand the eviction process, access resources available to them, and ultimately better plan for what’s required of them moving forward.
As a direct result of USDR’s efforts, between 500 and 700 postcards are sent each week to tenants facing eviction and to landlords encouraging them to refer tenants for assistance. Over 10,000 postcards have been sent since the team automated the process in April 2022.
Weekly, approximately 300 text messages go out to tenants notifying them that they have court in the next week. These messages include information on the time and date of their hearing, the link to their public court record, the handbook on how to prepare, and information on their ERA eligibility.
Daily, between 100 and 200 emails go out notifying tenants when their ERA application status changes, when their court date has been set, how to get help if they are stuck in the pipeline to be deemed eligible for ERA, and what to expect in court.Administrative burden has also been lifted for the NPI team, who reported time saved from the automated processes in place that allow attorneys to focus on their legal work and not on updating spreadsheets or manually sending communications.