CoVid-19 Response

Please note that all Portland Housing Authority offices are closed to the public until further notice. 

Message to residents, contractors, vendors, suppliers, interpreters, caseworkers, clients or walk-in guests:

PHA CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE PLAN - REVISED MARCH 30, 2020

Introduction:

The Portland Housing Authority is monitoring the current viral outbreak formally known as the Coronavirus or COVID-19. This is a constantly changing situation.  We are taking this very seriously and have developed a Response Plan should this health crisis impact our delivery of services to our residents and participants of our housing programs. There are many sources of factual information concerning the virus that can be found at these websites:

The Center for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov

The Maine Center for Disease Control: www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc

The World Health Organization: www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus

The National Institutes of Health: www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus

Call 211, text your area code to 898-211, or visit https://211maine.org/

Visit the City of Portland Website for Local information https://portlandmaine.gov/2582/COVID-19-Information 

For the next two work weeks (then we will re-assess): PHA wants to be cautious and react in a manner we feel is justified to protect ourselves and our families. We are taking prudent measures to protect ourselves, our residents and those we work with every day. This plan provides guidance as to how PHA can continue our work while being cautious and respectful of this serious health issue facing our community. Our goal will be to limit our employee and resident exposure to the virus and to prevent the further spread of the virus.

Communication:

The best efforts to combat a serious health issue like COVID-19 is to communicate clearly and effectively with employees, residents, government officials, vendors and the public. Accurate and timely communication will be critical in order to provide a proactive response rather than reactive. Use of multiple forms of communication will be important to spread the message as widely as possible to those who will rely on us now and in the future. This will include letters, emails, the PHA website, flyers, meetings and when possible, text messaging.

Employees:

When it is necessary to communicate with staff the preferred method will NOT be to call for a mandatory staff meeting to go over information. If the situation calls for immediate notification, use of texting and emails will be used to get information to employees quickly. In the event there are changes in policies and procedures or there are work stoppages, this information shall be done in writing to remove any confusion or to limit misinterpretations. ALL STAFF SHOULD BE SIGNED UP FOR OUR WEB ALERTS.

Areas that are being addressed:

  • Controlled access to PHA offices;
  • Protocols for completing work orders in resident’s homes-
  • Responding to emergency calls;
  • Inspections;
  • New lease ups;
  • Use of outside vendors;

Residents/Participants:

The PHA currently serves over 900 households and therefore communication with them may be limited to letters, use of the website and those participating in our text messaging service. It will be important to provide our residents with helpful information that is reliable and effective. Written communication will include basic information about the virus, how to protect themselves, prevent the viruses spread and where they can find more information. They will be encouraged to contact health officials if they believe they have contracted the virus or are showing signs of the symptoms. Residents will be asked to self-quarantine themselves to protect their neighbors and others for as long as may be required due to governmental action. If you ask them to remove themselves from common areas or PHA offices, they must comply. PHA staff are instructed to call PPD if a resident fails to remove themselves from the office when requested to do so by PHA staff. No resident will be penalized for late report due to social distancing efforts at this time. We must ask all of our residents and participants to continue to live their lives in a manner as normal as possible and to stay alert as the conditions change. We must all be prepared to respond in an appropriate manner and not panic or act in a frenzied manner that will not protect ourselves or others.

Congregate services are discouraged at this time and at some point, it may be impossible to provide services on site if we can’t do so with minimum congregation of residents. If schools are closed, we may work with school departments to assist in food delivery as we are able. In the event that services are disrupted, we will work with state and local officials to make every effort to provide meals and services. All residents are encouraged to take appropriate measures to have sufficient food and supplies on hand in the event that a quarantine is instituted.

Vendors:

For our partners who work with us to provide goods and services, we will keep them informed via emails and/or phone calls in any changes to our work environment. If buildings or neighborhoods are quarantined, we will make them aware of the situation so that they may determine if they can or will provide services if needed. Emergency work items requiring immediate attention in an area of concern will be disclosed and a plan to deal with the emergency will be developed in a timely fashion subject to the nature of the emergency. For emergencies dealing with fire or police services, residents shall continue to use 911 services.

Deliveries should be limited to lobby or entry space, or immediately placed in storage if possible, packages may be disinfected or allowed to sit more than 24 hours before processing, or hands should be washed immediately after processing delivery of packages or papers. No vendor should be allowed office access unless their service requires it, invoices can be dropped off in a lock box or with the package.

Government Officials:

The PHA staff will work closely with state and local officials to monitor the situation and report any known instances of the virus that have affected our staff or residents. When government decrees are issued, we will work to communicate these directives to our residents and staff. The Executive Director or his/her designee of the PHA shall be the point of contact for all communication with public officials.

Incident Response: 

In the event an employee or resident has contracted the virus, they must report it to their supervisor immediately. We’ll handle each report that a staff member may have been exposed on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the totality of the circumstances, including the ability for the person to work remotely or at a distance within PHA facilities. If the person was tested and is waiting for test results, which at the time of this revision, are taking 7 to 10 days, the employee will be asked to stay at home until a negative result is obtained, either initially or after recovering from the virus. The employee should consult Attachment A regarding sick and leave policies and the effect of Emergency Legislation.

If contact with public health officials is required but has not yet occurred, such contact will be made immediately by the Executive Director. We will coordinate our response with them and ensure that our efforts do not duplicate or in any way impede in their ability to respond to the incident. Managers, working with public officials, will help to determine the source of the virus, take steps to ensure that the spread of the virus is halted or limited and make recommendations on how to proceed with our daily operations. Managers shall familiarize themselves with the current issues, identify resources to assist and recommend next steps. The Executive Director shall always keep the Board of Commissioners informed. Decisions to cease or limit operations shall be at the direction of the Executive Director, working with the Board of Commissioners.   

If it is necessary to cease operations of the PHA, we will communicate this via our website, emails, and the media. Our phone lines will continue to operate, and messages can be left which will be forwarded to staff who will monitor these messages.

Prevention Efforts:

The PHA will make reasonable efforts to control the spread of the virus through commonly known personal practices and work practices. Information will be disseminated to staff and residents about coughing/sneezing etiquette, washing of hands and staying home if you are sick.  We will make additional efforts to sanitize those areas frequented by staff and residents such as the lobbies, bathrooms, waiting room, meeting space and elevators. An emphasis will be made on those areas which come into frequent contact with hands. We will utilize appropriate disinfectants as identified by health officials and whenever possible use green cleaning products which serve as a qualified disinfectant. 

The success of any prevention effort must rely upon the good judgement of individuals in our sphere of living. If an individual is sick, has symptoms or is known to have the virus, they must stay home and prevent the spread to others. Any employee coming to work when they have been advised to self-quarantine or while awaiting a test is putting co-workers and the operations and mission of the agency at risk and will be disciplined promptly and with the seriousness that the situation demands. Employees will be asked to stay at home, residents are asked to remain in their apartments and seek assistance from family members or others to provide for their basic necessities. 

The State declared a Stay-At-Home order from 3/25/2020 at 12:01 AM thru 4/8/2020 at 12:00 AM, we must all follow the instructions provided regardless of any inconvenience it may cause in our lives. We are listed as an essential service, but we should honor the distancing of 6 ft and the limit on gatherings in one work space of no more than 10 people. 

PHA is locking its office doors. Doorbells with video access to receptionist are being installed. Notices will be posted giving phone numbers to call and there are locking drop boxes being provided. During limited contact outside the office for inspections or lease ups, PHA requests the resident/participant stay at least at minimum 6 feet from the front desk or the maximum length the office allows if under 6 feet. During contact through the video doorbell, PHA employees will ask you the nature of your visit to the office. If dropping off paperwork is nature of the visit, the resident/participant will be asked to drop it off in the mailbox just outside the office. Resident/participants will be encouraged to use the telephone.

All common area furniture will be put away and community rooms locked until further notice. 

Operational Protocols:

Leasing/Voucher Issuance: While service delivery is curtailed due to community health concerns, PHA will try to assist our clients to the extent feasible through electronic or written means (mail). Public Housing applications will be made downloadable from the PHA website and emailed to info@porthouse.org. Housing Choice Vouchers can be made to the statewide waiting list online. Special vouchers programs will be handled on a case by case basis. If the applicant does not appear to be ill or report having any exposure, units may be shown to no more than 1 or 2 persons, using hygienic precautions but limited personal contact with applicants for processing applications. If original documents must be seen and copied, documents should be dropped off in a box, and staff should wash hands following the processing of the documents. Documents may also be allowed to sit inside PHA office for 24 hours before processing.

Leases will be sent electronically or by mail followed up with phone conversations to review the lease and other pertinent documents. Showing of units may be done in person if possible while maintaining 6 ft distance and limited the number of individuals who are allowed to attend. Move in/move out inspections may be waived during any office closure or if staff is unavailable because of actions being taken. If a move out inspection cannot occur, security deposits shall be returned minus any unpaid rent. Lease enforcement will continue to the extent complaints can be followed up via emails, texts or phone calls. PHA shall continue to comply with state and federal regulations as it relates to the enforcement of lease provisions.

Voucher lease ups shall continue to the extent possible. Paperwork shall continue to be processed, subject to staff availability, via email or regular mail. Phone conversations shall be documented. Lease up inspections shall continue to the extent possible subject to additional regulatory guidance from the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development and availability of staff. Voucher issuance may be suspended if a quarantine or discretion given staff in this protocol, if staffing is limited or unavailable and is subject to governmental action.

Program eligibility; Annual/interim Re-certifications:  Until further notice, PHA will use a household’s previous interim/annual action for income and asset info for the household’s next annual re-certification. If the household has experienced a decrease in income since the last action, please call PHA staff responsible for your re-certification to report this. PHA will make note of this report and do everything feasible to verify the decrease in income through third party sources, fax, email, or scanned documents.  If these efforts fail, PHA will contact the household and ask they drop off necessary documents in a drop box at the office and will process the action. Households will be reminded of this policy when their annual re-certification packets are mailed.

Inspections: In order to comply with virus containment protocols, inspections may continue if conditions allow. Conditions which may affect inspections include but are not limited to availability of staff; additional regulatory guidance; known conditions of occupants of the units to be inspected and government restrictions. PHA will use outside inspectors if they are available. Inspectors may delay annual inspections for the greatest extent allowable under current or Emergency regulations imposed, or if they can be done while maintaining hygienic precautions and/or use of personal protective gear. PHA staff may exercise discretion and prudent judgement for their own protection and to stop the virus spread.  PHA will not allow inspection of units where a person is present who is known to be ill, be self-quarantining, or have a positive or pending test for Covid-19.

Maintenance: PHA will use extreme caution when required to perform work in common areas and individual units. If sick, personnel will be asked to remain home and refrain from performing any work on behalf of PHA. If residents are infected by the virus or showing flu like symptoms, PHA staff may exercise discretion and prudent judgement for their own protection and to stop the virus spread. This includes use of proper protective clothing, respirators, gloves, face masks, and other protective gear as needed. We are now performing only exterior and common area work, emergency/urgent (health and safety), vacant unit turn and cleanings only! PHA will continually reassess this. 

Increased attention will be made to cleaning and disinfecting areas with heavy pedestrian traffic and surfaces which come into frequent contact of humans. Doors, handrails, elevator buttons, intercom panels for example should be cleaned at least once per day, subject to staffing availability. Areas requiring priority attention shall be Franklin Tower, Harbor Terrace, Washington Gardens and all community rooms and common areas. This does not include properties with private access/single entry ingress. The office will be cleaned regularly by maintenance and at the end of each business day by office staff.

Maintenance shall take stock of inventory to ensure adequate supplies are in place should there be a disruption of the supply chain. This should include adequate cleaning supplies as well as any material or equipment necessary for the safe operation of our facilities.

Financial: Our objective during this crisis shall be to continue to receive and make payments for good and services provided and or delivered. Residents are expected to continue to make rent payments in a timely fashion. We request that during this crisis, payments be made via the mail or dropped off at the rent drop box at the Manager’s office with check or money order. Debit card payments will be accepted over the phone only. Residents may pay by bank check or money order. PHA will work with our software vendor and our bank to determine if we can expand direct deposit payments.

Revenue: Staff, to the extent possible, shall make every effort to record revenues received and process deposits as needed. Should the PHA be hampered in its ability to collect and record payments, no action will be made upon any household for non-payment of rent. Until such time as mail delivery is suspended, we will regularly check our mailbox to receive and record payments. Staff will continue to verify direct deposits through online banking systems.

Accounts Payable will be processed if staff are available and proceeds are on hand to cover expenses. Every effort will be made to reach out to vendors and keep them informed of when payments can be expected if we are unable to process them when they are due. Payments to landlords shall be processed provided funds are made available from the federal government. Priority will be given to direct deposits. Those requiring a check to be processed shall be completed subject to availability of staff and funds. If the PHA’s ability to process payments to its landlord and vendors is impeded due to government action or the lack of staff due to this crisis, it is understood that all accrued payments shall be made upon the earliest possible ability to process said payments. As per HAP agreements, PHA is requesting patience and understanding during this difficult time.

Communication will be made with all our landlords to keep them informed of our situation and to ask that they not take any adverse action against participants in the Housing Choice Voucher should payments be delayed. This shall be done through written communication and our web site.

Telework: PHA intends to follow CDC guidance in respect to our response to the COVID-19 outbreak. CDC recommends that persons at heightened risk of serious illness should work from home if possible. Those health conditions that CDC describes are found at here.  PHA Staff with these conditions or with a household member with these conditions, should work from home.

If you fall into any of these categories, please know that if you want to work from home, PHA will support you and help make this happen. Affected staff, please make arrangements with your supervisor who will help coordinate your schedule and work with IT and compliance to set it up. All department heads are instructed to work to accommodate such requests within the regulatory restrictions placed on the agency. IT has been authorized to increase the number of laptops available for this purpose.

Additional work at home arrangements may be allowed by Department Heads on a schedule which will allow for greater social distancing at our offices, after considering relief caused by work at home by vulnerable staff members (see above). Whereas not all tasks required to perform the duties can be done at home, every effort will be made between employer and employee to identify work that can be done electronically from home. PHA shall provide computer access through a VPN connection and accordance with prescribed protocols established by our IT partners. All management staff are to confirm connections with IT. In the event proper access cannot be granted due to security concerns or connectivity issues, other means such as emails and phones shall be utilized to the greatest extent feasible.

Maintenance obviously cannot be performed at home therefore maintenance staff shall be designated as standby if it is necessary to close the office for any period of time. Residents will continue to be asked to call into our emergency call line to report any issues requiring immediate attention. Any staff required to perform work at any of our properties shall wear proper protection provided by PHA and utilize safe work practices at all times. No unauthorized or non-PHA approved Personal Protective gear is allowed.

Employees are advised to monitor their health and report any symptoms to their health care provider and local public health officials as necessary. If an employee believes they may have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms, they are asked to stay home and monitor their situation while keeping PHA informed of their status. 

Travel & Training:

PHA directs all training and travel be discontinued. PHA will process cancellations.

Social Gatherings

PHA will not conduct or authorize gatherings of residents of more than 10, including study center, if they can be avoided and will discourage gatherings organized by residents.

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 YOU CAN ACCESS THE COMPLETE DOCUMENT HERE

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Attachment A: Effective April 1st, 2020

Emergency Paid Sick Leave

Regular daily pay, up to $511 per day ($5,110 total) if leave is needed to:

  • Comply with a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation directive
  • Self-quarantine following a doctor’s order
  • Seek care for active symptoms / diagnosis for COVID-19

Reduced benefit:  2/3 of their regular daily pay up to $200 per day ($2,000 total) if leave is needed:

  • To care for an individual under quarantine directive
  • Because the employee’s child’s school / daycare is closed
  • Because employee is experiencing substantially similar conditions specified by Secretary of HHS

FMLA Expansion

  • This expansion establishes a new qualifying reason for FMLA leave for a “qualifying need related to a public health emergency.”
  • An employee is eligible for this leave when he or she is unable to work (or telework) due to a need to care for the employee’s child because the child’s school or daycare is closed due to a public health emergency.
  • Available to any employee who has been employed for 30 calendar days.
  • The first 10 days of leave are unpaid but may be covered with other paid leave if available (including above emergency sick leave).
  • Thereafter, employees are entitled to 2/3 their regular rate, capped at $200 per day ($12,000 in the aggregate) up to 10 weeks.