Transition Age Youth Find a Home in Berkeley’s Harmon Gardens
In California each year, approximately 5,000 young people from the foster care system are released from the system of care at age 18. These young adults are forced to find solutions to severe challenges, and don’t have access to the financial, educational and/or transitional support that most 18 year-olds receive from parents and extended families. And, of course, they must find affordable and safe housing – a challenging task for anyone, let alone an 18-year old with few resources. Fortunately, that’s where Affordable Housing Associates (AHA) comes in. Founded in 1993 with a mission to create and preserve high-quality affordable housing that strengthens individuals, families and neighborhoods, AHA has developed or rehabilitated over 700 housing units since their inception, all in multi-family developments. They have been recognized for their focus on high quality and green building design, as well as their commitment to housing for people like foster youth who face extra difficulties in finding a home.
The sad truth is that a high proportion of former foster youth end up in the criminal justice system, homeless, and/or without a job. Through a partnership with the Fred Finch Youth Center, the City of Berkeley Mental Health Department and Berkeley Housing Authority, NCCLF provided AHA with a $961,317 loan to partially finance the construction of a 16-unit affordable housing development in Berkeley called Harmon Gardens Apartments. The project will provide studio apartments for very low-income transition age youth (18-24) who are no longer in the foster care program, or who have been living on the streets. Residents will receive supportive services and rental subsidies, and ten of the units will be set aside for youth with mental illnesses. The building will include universal design and green features, as well as shared open space and a community room.
The project seemed to be in jeopardy when AHA ran into problems with the loan received by the state, which has limited use for the construction phase of Harmon Gardens. “A conventional loan wasn’t even an option” said Eve Stewart, Director of Housing Development. “So NCCLF stepped in with the critical construction financing we needed. Without their help construction couldn’t even start on the apartments. NCCLF has worked on past projects with us and the flexibility and creativity they bring with them has contributed to the invaluable relationship we have with them today.” With the help of NCCLF, Harmon Gardens is expected to meet its completion date of July 2011.
The passage into adulthood for most 18 year-olds can be difficult even under the best circumstances, let alone without the support and direction most youths get from their families. But with the help of community organizations coming together to provide a safety net for former foster care youth and homeless young adults, the transition can be made a little easier for them. NCCLF is glad to be a vital part of that safety net partnership.