As Jennings Court, a Covia Affordable Community in Santa Rosa, celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer, its first residents are reflecting on their initial impressions.
“I was one of the first 8 people to move in,” says Fred Campbell. “And the day I walked into the facility, I fell in love with the structure, the ambiance.” Campbell, who had lost his business as a hairdresser in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, had been cleaning houses in Southern California when he learned that Jennings Court was being built. “I always thought [low income housing] was bad stuff because that’s how the movies always show it,” he said. Instead, “On a scale of 1-10, I’d say my first impression was an 11.”
“It was a rural setting then,” when Jennings Court opened in 2008, says Penni Colley. “Across the street were horses grazing around a barn. Of course, that’s not there any more, but it was so beautiful.”
Colley had been surprised there was still room in the new building when she received a letter saying there was an apartment available for her. “At my age and being low income, I didn’t think I would ever have a new apartment. You just kind of have to forget that because the chances of me having a brand new apartment were slim. When I saw how beautiful these were, I just couldn’t get over it.”
Colley explains that the apartments hadn’t filled due to the strict qualification requirements. Residents must be 62 or older and “very, very, very – three veries – low income,” she says.
“They were offering me such a sweet deal on the rent that I figured it would be a dump. And I was very pleasantly surprised to find how nice it is,” says Roger Hanelt, who had been homeless before moving into Jennings Court. “It’s been a very healing environment for me. Because I’ve gone through highs and lows and this place was definitely a rescue.”
Campbell remembers, “The day we got in, I stayed most of the time looking at the courtyard, so beautiful. Now I watch the seasons change with all of these trees outside my front door.”
Jennings Court has 54 apartments that look out on a central courtyard that contains a garden tended by the residents and a fountain donated by Spring Lake Village, another Covia community in Santa Rosa. It was built through a partnership between Covia and Burbank Housing with funding from HUD and the city of Santa Rosa. Along with housing, Jennings Court provides service coordination and programs such as a weekly Market Day and monthly visit from the Bookmobile.
Colley remembers “When we had our very first welcome party out in the patio out there, I just ran around to anyone who looked like they were a suit and said, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’
Before she moved in, “I remember thinking, ‘oh, well, I’ll have to let that thought go. I’m never going to have my own new place. And then God blessed me with this. And I just have a wonderful new apartment. Everything in it was new. It smelled new. There were no residual crumbs in the drawers that anybody had missed. So. Gratitude.”
“I kept telling myself how fortunate I was. I’m still poor as a church mouse but I’m not unhappy,” says Campbell. “Every time I think about Jennings Court when I’m away from it, it’s home.”
Residents and staff from Covia Affordable Communities recently attended LeadingAge California’s annual Affordable Senior Housing Resident Advocacy Day in Sacramento. One of our staff members reported that one resident left an impact on his Assemblyman when he introduced himself saying, “My name is Dean and I was homeless for four years before I got a studio in an affordable HUD building.” We’ve asked Dean to share his story.
If you have ever experienced a trauma (and most of us have), you may not want to talk about it. That’s the way it was with me, but my friends at Covia convinced me that other people might be helped by my “confession.” So, here goes.
The trouble began in early 2012. Having been unemployed for 2 years (a direct result of the 2008 recession), my money completely ran out and I was faced with eviction from my Oakland apartment of 16 years. When you can’t pay the rent, the sheriff simply changes the locks and you don’t get in.
A friend (call him J.R.) saved me from life in the street by offering to let me sleep in his van. This is not an ordeal I would wish on anyone. Though not too uncomfortable physically (just make sure you have lots of blankets in cold weather), you are constantly in fear of police and hostile “neighbors.”
After 3 ½ years in this situation, I returned to the van one afternoon to find that it was no longer there. A police woman parked nearby informed me that the van had been towed only an hour before. All my possessions (books, CDs, clothing and a guitar) were gone. Although I’d been careful not to park it in front of anyone’s house (it had been near an empty lot), I guess the old Dodge Ram was an eyesore to some “upstanding citizens.” So I experienced two disasters in less than 4 years.
At this point, I walked to J.R.’s house and told him what had happened. He somewhat shamefacedly admitted that he had neglected to pay some old parking tickets as well as vehicle registration, but then offered to let me sleep in a tent in his back yard.
One afternoon soon after this, I received a phone call from Oak Center Towers. I had applied for residency there over a year before, and they now had a vacant studio apartment. This was the first cheerful note in my life since 2010! On arriving at my first interview, I met Julia Bergue, a sweet and flexible person who did all the necessary paperwork.
Finally, on August 17, 2016, I spent the first night in my new home. Somewhat dazedly, I realized there was a solid, legitimate, leak-proof roof over my head.
So take it from me: when you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way is up. Keep a-going’!!
Dean, age 66, earned his Master’s degree and worked as a paralegal for 20 years before losing his job during the great recession.
Covia’s Home Match program was featured in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled Affordable housing in the comfort of your own home.
From the article:
“We call these homeowners ‘house-rich and cash-poor,’” said Tracy Powell, vice president of community services for Covia (formerly Episcopal Senior Communities), which runs the Home Match program in San Francisco along with Northern California Presbyterian Homes & Services. “They have the house, but their maintenance, taxes, food and medical costs are all going up. So bringing in a lodger at $1,000 a month can make the difference between keeping or losing it.”
But finding a compatible housemate involves much more than just agreeing on pets, smoking, visitors and other deal-breakers, said Max Moy-Borgen, director of Home Match Contra Costa. “There’s a lot more that comes into play when you are living together with someone than just a standard rental where you’re living on your own,” he said. “But when everything clicks, it means that people are really enjoying the arrangement and it’s a good fit.”
In-person home-sharing services like Home Match counter that they have the advantage of face-to-face contact with applicants and knowledge of local conditions — and that their services are often free.
In San Francisco, for example, where the program is supported by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, Home Match created a model contract that can be canceled with a simple written notice, not a time-consuming eviction. And, because Home Match checks back regularly with both homeowners and lodgers, it can step in to mediate if their needs change.
When Kevin Wallace, a 67-year-old San Francisco remodeling contractor, first took in a lodger last year, for example, it was partly to help him take care of his wife, who suffered from dementia. After some months, however, his wife’s condition worsened and she had to go into full-time care. So Christine Ness of Home Match sat down with the pair to re-negotiate their contract.
Now the lodger, 72-year-old Elizabeth (she asked that her last name not be used), a retired Montessori teacher, pitches in on chores in exchange for her $350-a-month room in Noe Valley. “My son from Cambodia came home for a visit recently and said, ‘Hey Dad, the house looks great. Make sure you keep Elizabeth,’” Wallace said.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, figures she spends about an hour a day on chores ranging from dishes to laundry to clipping flowers from the garden for ikebana floral arrangements. In exchange, she has an affordable room in a city she loves because “San Francisco is an outdoors place, and I’m a nature person.”
The biggest challenge that all home-sharing services face — whether online or off — is finding enough homeowners to meet demand. “When we first started matching people in San Francisco a few years ago, no one had heard of it,” said Powell of the San Francisco Home Match program, even though the home-sharing phenomenon has been around nationwide for decades. “But now we’re reaching a tipping point, and homeowners are more willing to give it a try.”
And while the chief goal remains affordable housing, the Home Match crew is always happiest when its work leads to more.
“I tell homeowners that it can turn out to be a wonderful experience to invite someone into your home,” said Ness, director of Home Match Marin. “Even if you’re just doing it initially for rental income or service exchange, sometimes it can turn into a community of friends.”
Learn more about Home Match here.
Photo by Michael Macor / San Francisco Chronicle / Polaris
Leaders in senior affordable housing will share the story of the Openhouse Community, the Bay Area’s first LGBT-welcoming senior affordable housing project, in a free event on June 1 at 3:00 at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Pre-registration is requested.
LGBT Housing – A Community Conversation About Lessons Learned and Future Directions will be moderated by Karim Sultan, VP of Affordable Housing for Covia. The panel will include: Marcy Adelman, co-founder Openhouse, a San Francisco non-profit exclusively focused on health and well-being of LGBTQI elders; Karyn Skultety, Executive Director of Openhouse; and Ileah Lavora, Housing Developer at Mercy Housing.
“Hopefully, the panel will motivate like-minded parties, whether it be in San Francisco or in the greater Bay Area, to build more LGBT housing,” says Sultan. “Obviously, there would be a lot of work between this initial conversation and a building going up, but we would like to start a larger conversation.”
After the panel, participants are invited to take a tour of the housing community at 55 Laguna, which provides Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender-welcoming housing for seniors age 55 and older. Though open to people of all sexual orientations or gender identity, 68% of the residents identify as LGBT.
The LGBT Community Center is located at 1800 Market Street. To register for this event, please visit this eventbrite site.