Memphis Shelby County Emergency Rental Assistance

Keeping Families in Their Homes by Scaling Workflows: Emergency Rental Assistance Program


In Spring 2021 the Memphis Shelby County Emergency Rental Assistance (MSCERA) coalition needed to quickly scale their Emergency Rent and Utility Assistance Program in order to keep families in their homes. U.S. Digital Response (USDR) worked with the team to understand their workflows and built a system that leverages several low-cost software solutions.

The coalition wanted to create a single “front door” for all applications in this city-county program. The team also needed to streamline how they managed several complex workflows across different teams, including:

  • Screening applicants for emergency rental and utility assistance
  • Prioritizing applicants for support in eviction court
  • Managing communications with landlords
  • Initiating payments to landlords and the utilities company

Our approach

MSCERA had to build processes from scratch to meet the needs of a new program. As the original process evolved, USDR helped build out tools that relied on a series of spreadsheets (in Google Sheets) and manual steps (like emailing landlords or residents). As workflows got more complex, we helped transition to:

  • A series of online forms – created in Jotform – that simplify applications, screener reviews, and landlord outreach
  • A series of tables – created in Airtable – that allows all backend workflows and processing to happen in one place
  • Automations – using Zapier, Airtable automations, and other tools – that trigger actions based on status updates and minimize manual processes

To understand the major steps involved in ERAP processing, the USDR team mapped out a high-level workflow, as well as a screener workflow that details how an application is processed once received.


MSCERA and USDR’s partnership gave the program the technology and process it needed to begin disbursing funds and helping residents immediately. It also allowed MSCERA to use real-world examples, learnings, and user needs to assist in its procurement process.

This system can be adapted for different programs, users, and workflows. For a city that supports 10-20k applications, we estimate that this solution will require:

  • 1 week for deployment
  • 2 weeks of post-deployment training and support
  • $1,200/month estimated total software cost, which can support a team of 30 program screeners

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has highlighted these workflows and data integration in its guidance on best practices in local ERA programs.


Meet the team

Alex Allain
Alex overaw the development of technological tools, automation, and infrastructure at USDR. Previously, Alex served as a Director of Engineering at Dropbox.
Emily Barlow
Emily is the business operations manager at USDR. Emily was mostly recently at Apple, where she worked as an Engineering Program Manager for next-generation display hardware.
Get the help you need, now.
USDR is fast, free, and nonpartisan.
We’ll get back to you within 48 hours.
Contact us