Los Angeles–The dearth of affordable housing for low-income individuals is massive, but the shortage of such accommodations for the formerly homeless and previously incarcerated is even greater. In an effort to answer demand in this niche segment of the low-income population, Affordable Housing CDC Inc. and Watts Labor Community Action Committee have completed development of Dolores McCoy Villa in the Watts community of Los Angeles.
“McCoy Villa is a unique property in the affordable housing sector, not only because it serves the formerly homeless and incarcerated, but because it serves these individuals and their families. Typically in Los Angeles, you see a lot of SROs residences,” Joe Stalzer, executive director of affordable housing with AHCDC, tells MHN. The property offers 40 two-bedroom and 24 three-bedroom units, and features such amenities as a playground, outdoor courtyard, athletic center and community room. Secure underground parking is also available.
Additionally, and perhaps of the greatest importance, tenants have access to personalized social services designed to help facilitate their transition back into society as successful citizens. Assistance runs the gamut and includes budget counseling, employment training and placement, academic counseling, access to healthcare and substance-abuse services, and family-focused independent living skills training.
The low-income housing community stands out for yet another reason. The developers partnered with A New Way of Life Reentry Project, a South Central Los Angeles organization that seeks to assist women in the transition form the criminal justice system into a productive lifestyle, on the concept of McCoy Villa and determined that the target market for the apartment complex would be women who fall into the aforementioned category. “Our goal for this project was to do a project centered 100 percent on formerly incarcerated women,” Stalzer explains. “We and the other agencies involved wanted it to be a reunification project for moms and kids–period.” But the developers’ good intentions ran into a roadblock in the form of federal government bureaucracy.
An affordable housing development has to meet certain criteria to qualify for Section 8 subsidizing, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has determined that a person exiting prison or jail is required to have been homeless before entering incarceration in order to qualify as homeless upon their exit. If they were not homeless before, they cannot be deemed homeless afterward. HUD had to be on board for the Section 8 contract. Financing the development of affordable housing in the current economic climate is practically impossible without federal government assistance, so the developers and participating non-profit organizations, all of which had conceived the project before obtaining financing, altered their vision slightly.
The original intent was not to discriminate against certain types of homeless individuals, but to provide housing specifically to formerly incarcerated homeless women–a highly underserved segment within the underserved homeless population. The HUD rule, Stalzer says, “blew our 100 percent goal out of the window–but it is still strictly for the homeless and formerly incarcerated.” So, McCoy Villa is accessible to all homeless individuals and those previously imprisoned persons who were homeless pre-incarceration, although there is a specific focus on formerly incarcerated homeless women.
The compromise–and the developers are not complaining–paved the way for the obtainment of financing for the development of McCoy Villa. The project benefited from the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program. Additionally, both the City and County of Los Angeles provided funds, as did US Bank. Adding the apartment community’s $26 million development cost with its $16 million project-based valuation of the Section 8 contract, McCoy Villa is valued at an aggregate $42 million.
AHCDC and WLCAC have more projects on the horizon. “WLCAC owns the property next door to McCoy Villa and we hope to develop the next phase there, which would be straight affordable housing that would transition those moving out of McCoy Villa.”