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


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

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.

The Work

A team of pro bono technologists from USDR worked with MSCERA to help develop a system that 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

Reach out to USDR for help getting this solution configured for your community.

The Impact


Applications received


Applications screened

$13.7+ M

Assistance distributed


This high-level workflow illustrates some select major steps in ERAP processing. This screener workflow details how an application is processed once received. 

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

USDR Team Members

Alex Allain  

CTO and Co-Founder

Emily Barlow

Operations + Tools Team Lead and Co-Founder

Melissa House

Volunteers Team



Technology Used

  • Zapier
  • JotForm
  • G Suite
  • Airtable
  • PandaDoc

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