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October 2012 Newsletter

Housing Authority of Santa Clara County Awards Project-Based Vouchers to HCC Partner Properties

For Elliott, a 26 year old part-time student majoring in Media Arts, it was like winning the lottery when his studio apartment at Casa Feliz was selected to receive a Project-Based Voucher from the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County. “A project-based voucher,” Elliott explained, "is subsidized rent, where Housing Authority pays a portion of the rent and I pay the remainder.”  The Project-Based Voucher program attaches the rental assistance from the Housing Authority to the actual unit at the property.  So if Elliott moves out, the next person with a developmental disability to move into Elliott’s unit will then get the benefit of the Project Based Voucher. 

“The voucher lightens the load for me,” Elliott said. “I was counting pennies through the end of the month!  At this point in the month I would only have about $30 to last me until the next month.  Now I have a little extra and don’t have to worry about whether I’ll be able to buy food or school supplies.” A big relief for Elliott is that he is now able to afford to replace shoes.  Because he has cerebral palsy, he can go through two pairs of shoes a month. This expense has always fallen on Elliott, since there is no assistance for this.  “Some shoes you could put your fingers through to the other side!”

The Project Based Voucher also gives Elliott an opportunity to save up for when he and his fiancée move in together. Right now Elliott has another year to complete his Media Arts degree, and is hoping his fiancée falls in love with San Jose too. “I love living here. I love the building and a lot of my neighbors. I have friends that always ask what the process is to get into Casa Feliz. I just feel really lucky.” 

Elliott is among twelve HCC clients who will benefit from the Project-Based Vouchers. The Housing Authority of Santa Clara County awarded Project-Based Vouchers to units designated for people with developmental disabilities at Gish Apartments and at Casa Feliz after implementing a competitive Request for Proposal process. Both Gish Apartments and Casa Feliz are Partner Properties developed by First Community Housing, with units designated for Housing Choices Coalition (HCC) clients who receive ongoing resident support services funded by San Andreas Regional Center.   The Housing Authority launched the competition for Project-Based Vouchers after a needs assessment by an independent consultant showed that people with special needs had a difficult time finding an apartment in the appropriate location with appropriate services even if they were fortunate enough to receive a Housing Choice Voucher. 

The Project-Based Voucher contract will attach to the twelve units at Gish and Casa Feliz for fifteen years, subject to renewal for another fifteen year period.    According to Jeff Oberdorfer, Executive Director of First Community Housing, the competition for the Housing Authority’s Project-Based Vouchers was very stiff.  He stated, “The selection of two of our Partner Properties to receive Project-Based Vouchers is further evidence that our collaboration with Housing Choices Coalition is fulfilling an important community need.” 

No More Mountain Lions
Five years ago, Janet, a single mother of then ten year old Tyler, was able to acquire a ten-foot long trailer and move it onto the field of an accommodating “good neighbor” in Santa Cruz County.  After living for a couple of years in shelters, garages and rooms in other people’s homes, Janet was grateful to have a place she could call her own even though it was isolated and lacked running water.

But as Tyler grew, the tight quarters of the trailer became more difficult.  By the time, Tyler entered eighth grade, he was six feet tall.  As he entered the teen years, he needed more privacy—even more so because of his autism.  And the trailer itself was beginning to fall into disrepair.  With each winter storm, Janet wondered whether the place would survive the night.  She worried for Tyler’s safety as the mountain lions in the surrounding hills grew in number and boldness, leaving long scar marks on the door of the trailer.

Janet had waited for years on the Section 8 voucher wait list and had been passed over once before because she had missed Housing Authority deadlines.   “I have post-traumatic stress syndrome, and that really affects how I cope with the paperwork and the deadlines.”

The second time she was called for an eligibility appointment by the Public Housing Authority, she contacted Housing Choices Coalition for help.   “Because of my health issues, I had a really hard time even making it through the Housing Authority meetings.  I needed help from Jenny Xilonzochilt, the Housing Choices Coordinator, to survive the process. “   In praising Jenny’s role, Janet explained that “Jenny took the time to break down the process one step at a time, and she came with me to every meeting.  She never lost faith that I would make it through the Section 8 process.” 

Janet was able with Jenny’s help to assemble the paperwork to prove her eligibility for Section 8.  The real challenge was to find a home in a safe and secure neighborhood in Watsonville with a landlord who would agree to participate in the Section 8 program.   

In looking for a property, Janet met with repeated disappointment.  Jenny Xilonzochilt, who helped Janet search for properties, explained:  “It has always been a challenge to find the right unit for our client where the landlord will accept Section 8, but it has gotten even harder in Santa Cruz County because HUD has forced the Housing Authority to lower the maximum rent that Section 8 will cover.”    In addition, Janet was competing for units with other tenants who had savings in the bank, good credit and a solid employment history.  And because of Tyler’s autism, she needed to pay particular attention to the safety of the neighborhood and turned down one property which the Housing Authority approved.

Jenny helped Janet apply for an extension of the Section 8 deadline and continue the search. As the extended deadline neared, the owner of a vacant home in Watsonville, where Janet had grown up, agreed to renovate it to meet Section 8 building standards and to accept Janet as the tenant.  But could it be done by the deadline for keeping the Section 8 voucher?  Somehow, the landlord succeeded, and Housing Choices Coalition loaned Janet the money to cover the security deposit.

After more than four months from first receiving the eligibility call from the Housing Authority, Janet and Tyler were able to move into their new home.  “This move was really important for Tyler”, Janet explained.  “My friends have commented on how much calmer he seems—he seems to have relaxed into his life.”  She added:  “It means a lot to him to have his own bedroom, with a door he can close.  He loves being able to take a shower every morning.  He has a place he can invite friends to.  We have a donated computer which he is using to make music—and he’s really very, very talented.  None of this was possible in the trailer where there wasn’t space to set up a computer.” 

The move has also meant a lot to Janet.  “Making it through the Section 8 process and moving into this home helped me get my dignity back.  Housing Choices helped me believe in myself, and that feeling of being at home with yourself is the greatest gift of all.” 
HCC’s Evelyn Garrison Receives SARC’s Recognition of Merit

Evelyn Garrison, Program Manager for Housing Choices Coalition, received a Recognition of Merit award from the San Andreas Regional Center at the Service Above Self Awards Dinner on October 13, 2012.  Since joining Housing Choices Coalition in 2008, Evelyn, who holds a Masters of Social Work from San Jose State University, has been central to the development  of HCC’s Resident Coordination Program.  She leads a team of four Resident Coordinators who support 148 residents with developmental disabilities in maintaining the stability of their housing at eleven Partner Properties.   Reflecting on her work, Evelyn commented:   “The greatest reward is when we show property owners and property managers that people with developmental disabilities make great tenants and contribute to the long-term stability of the housing community—making it a better place to live for people without developmental disabilities as well as for those with a disability.”