Helping 5Cities Homeless Coalition Keep San Luis Obispo County Housed

How the NIAC Loan Fund helped a housing nonprofit adapt to a changed business model.

When a small housing agency faced financial challenges due to changes in their funding, the NIAC Loan Fund helped them adapt and continue serving their community.


With a 50 percent increase in rent in five years, San Luis Obispo County has had the highest rate of rental increases of any county in California. That translates into a substantial increase in the amount of upfront deposit for renters, creating an additional barrier to sustainable housing.

5Cities Homeless Coalition, developed out of a grassroots recognition of community challenges, aids renters by providing $3,000 to $4,000 to help families move into apartments. Forty percent of the households the Coalition served last year were single-parent households in low income brackets. Several service recipients are tourism-based or agricultural workers severely impacted by shutdowns during COVID-19.

In addition to offering rental assistance, the Coalition identifies the root causes of challenges its beneficiaries face and helps to find solutions. These include how to budget or take advantage of community pantries.

“We have conversations with people about the challenges they’re facing, whether that’s homelessness or some financial hiccup,” says Janna Nichols, executive director of 5Cities Homeless Coalition. “During COVID-19, we’re receiving a tsunami of requests to help people avoid losing their housing due to bankruptcy, illness, separation of family, or loss of income in one way or another.”

Keeping San Luis Obispo County in housing.

One resident was a housekeeper at a local motel who raised her six-year-old daughter on her own before she could graduate high school. Her landlord advised her to see the Coalition. The resident was about to lose her housing and was not receiving any child support for her daughter or any public benefits to which she was entitled. Initially, the resident was resistant to the idea of help, insisting she could do it all on her own.

After helping her see that the benefits would stabilize the environment in which she raised her daughter, the Coalition also encouraged her to request a performance review at work and take the opportunity to ask for a raise. Within a week, the resident had earned a dollar raise an hour — a significant bump in her income.

“We then asked ‘You have been doing this position as a housekeeper now for several years. Is that your career path? Is that where you want to be?’” says Nichols. “’It’s okay if that’s the job you want, but is it all you want?’ Once she revealed she dropped out of high school just before receiving her diploma, we encouraged her to finish. She’d had only four weeks left.”

After securing her diploma, the resident connected to another agency with a job coach. She decided she wanted to become a phlebotomist. In three months, she had saved two months’ rent.

“They transform their own lives,” says Nichols. “We just help them figure out how to do it.”

Using the NIAC Loan Fund for a changed business model.

5Cities Homeless Coalition started with funding from the community foundation through a bequest. When that bequest was exhausted, the Coalition had to replace the source of funds to continue the program.

Most of the funds the Coalition secured are government grants from federal and state agencies. However, the model of payment was flipped from receiving the funds up front to getting reimbursed after providing the services.

“While changing that model, there was a government furlough for several months,” says Nichols. “If our grant began July 1st, we weren’t able to bill until February. Suddenly, we had $150,000 in delayed funds every month. And with the furlough, it was going to take six to nine months to get paid on some of our grants.”

The Coalition is a small agency of about ten employees and a budget of just over a million dollars. Keeping five to ten percent of the annual budget in receivables every month was incredibly difficult for such a small agency — particularly one that was only 10 years old and had not built up a significant reserve fund.

“And so we knew where we needed to go,” said Nichols. “We came to Nonprofits Insurance Alliance of California. They had been our insurer and we’d seen information about the NIAC Loan Fund. We didn’t even think to go anywhere else.”

A particular concern for the Coalition is the number of seniors falling into homelessness due to fixed incomes and rising rents.

“Recently, we helped a woman who had outlived her pension. She was losing her house,” says Nichols. “We’ve seen a 69 percent increase in the number of homeless seniors seeking service in the last two years. The NIAC Loan Fund enabled us to continue serving these communities.”

The NIAC Loan Fund is a pool of funds available to make uncollateralized loans of up to $75,000 to 501(c)(3) nonprofit members of NIA based in California. Learn more about the NIAC Loan Fund.

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