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News / Clark County News

Nonprofit providing rent assistance in Clark County closes doors

Council for Homeless to assist former clients of Noble Foundation

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 31, 2023, 6:10am

Some Clark County renters may be facing an uncertain future after a Vancouver nonprofit providing rental assistance recently closed its doors.

Visitors to The Noble Foundation were surprised to find the doors locked, lights off and phones disconnected at both the Vancouver and Kelso locations. The nonprofit, founded by Ophelia Noble in 2011, provides a variety of services, including rental assistance, to communities of color and operates as Nuestra Casa/Our Place Multicultural Community Center. A sign posted at the Vancouver office says the office is closed temporarily.

“The Noble Foundation recently sent an email to (Clark County) Community Services that due to agency capacity constraints they would stop taking additional referrals for rent assistance and will not be submitting any further invoices,” said Joni McAnally, communications specialist for the county.

On Thursday, the Council for the Homeless notified the county it had been contacted by Noble Foundation clients after finding the office closed and phones disconnected, McAnally said.

“Council for the Homeless and Clark County Community Services repeatedly reached out to The Noble Foundation to confirm their status but have not had any success,” she said.

While the county does provide funding for rental assistance programs, McAnally said the county’s role is limited to monitoring and oversight. The county is not involved in the organizational governance of service providers, she said.

It appears renters won’t be left in the dark for long, though. The Council for the Homeless will be contacting all clients referred to The Noble Foundation to confirm their status of assistance, according to McAnally. The council will also ensure clients receive assistance from another agency if rental assistance has not already been provided.

“The Council for the Homeless expects unassisted clients will have been contacted within a week. How soon assistance will be provided after that will vary, based on individual household eligibility and responsiveness of the landlord,” McAnally added.

But what happened to The Noble Foundation? While there’s no answer to that question yet, McAnally said the nonprofit was contracted using the same process required for all emergency rental assistance providers. That process included the announcement of an urgent need for rental assistance funds to be distributed and contract requirements being sent to nonprofit service providers. Agencies that met organizational requirements to contract with the county and had the capacity to provide needed services were then contracted.

McAnally said county staff followed the same oversight and due diligence that is conducted with all rental assistance service providers. She also noted the county requires a cost reimbursement contract, which means the service provider provides the assistance or services first, then the county reimburses the provider for the costs incurred.

Staff thoroughly review invoices for required backup documentation showing services were delivered before reimbursement will be made. Staff also monitor the provider’s activities included in the contract.

To date, the county has paid nearly $402,794 to The Noble Foundation, out of the $1.27 million it was awarded, of which $348,571 went to rent and utility assistance, $17,605 went to operations, and $36,618 went to administration.

“The county has no knowledge and was not part of why The Noble Foundation stopped rental assistance operations and communications with clients and community partners. It is regrettable this situation has occurred, as it negatively impacts the availability of services in the community, is disruptive to all rental assistance service providers, and most importantly, impacts households that may need services,” McAnally said. “The county has directed Council for the Homeless to work with all available rental assistance providers to fill the gap this situation has left as quickly as possible.”

The structure of the county’s contract may have played a part in The Noble Foundation’s troubles. A 2022 report from the Nonprofit Association of Washington found, despite increased funding available, long-standing challenges with the contracting process are getting in the way of equitably and effectively putting those resources to work to support impacted communities.

While it may be a common practice, the association said many nonprofits don’t have the financial resources to pay out rental and utility assistance then wait for reimbursement.

“Over 60 percent of nonprofits have been impacted in some form by the complexity and burden of contracting processes. More than half have been impacted by financial constraints created by government contracting,” the report stated, adding that data showed communities of color are disproportionately impacted by challenges related to financial constraints.

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All housing assistance from Clark County Community Services is provided through the Housing Solutions Center at 360-695-9677 or go to www.councilforthehomeless.org. For utility assistance, contact Clark Public Utilities at 360-992-3000 or www.clarkpublicutilities.com.

For all other services call 211 or 877-211-9274 or go to www.211info.org.