|Bank of America California
||Mercy Housing California
$700,000 AHP Grant
Melvin Batton is, in his own words, “Fifty-nine and feeling fine.” It’s been six months since he retired from 35 years as a custodian with the San Francisco Unified School District, but he’s busier than ever: single parent to 14-year-old Melia, assistant pastor at his church, and director of a nonprofit working to keep at-risk boys from making bad choices. “I really don’t know how I did all this when I was working,” Melvin says. “And I do more now."
Taylor Muer is 26 years old and equally busy, juggling a job, school, and activism. She works as an on-call desk clerk for downtown single-room occupancy residential hotels (SROs), is taking three classes at City College, and publicly advocates on behalf of other young people like herself – transition-age youth (TAY). In the acronym-rich language of social services, TAYs are young people who are aging out of the foster care system or are otherwise lacking support, and are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Melvin and Taylor each found a safe and affordable home at 1100 Ocean Avenue, an award-winning, transit-oriented development in San Francisco’s Ingleside Neighborhood that is the first new development in San Francisco to mix housing for the underserved TAY population with conventional low-income family housing, and one of the few such integrated communities in the country.
Mercy Housing California partnered with the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center and collaborated with a number of other public and private entities to develop the 71-unit complex on a site that was formerly a bus turnaround area. With retail on the ground floor and an attractive, new plaza at the front door, 1100 Ocean Avenue has helped to revitalize the local area.
The project received a $700,000 AHP grant through Bank member Bank of America California. “We have enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and we were pleased to work with them to provide this AHP award,” says Ashley Askew, Senior Vice President for Community Development Lending. “The AHP award helped make this project feasible, allowing for the development of much-needed affordable housing for transition-aged youth and low-income families.” Doug Shoemaker, President of Mercy Housing California, agrees. “Projects like 1100 Ocean simply couldn't get done well without the investment of AHP funding,” he says. “We rely on this critical resource in our work throughout the country.”
Melvin and daughter Melia had been living in Oakland for the past eight years, with Melia sleeping on a sofa bed in the living room of their small one-bedroom apartment. Because Melia is in the eighth grade at Aptos Middle School in San Francisco, Melvin was enduring heavy Bay Bridge traffic twice a day, bringing Melia to school before going to work. Once he retired, that could mean making the trek across the bridge four times a day, since he’d usually return home to Oakland after dropping Melia at school. “I prayed to God so many times to get me in a better position,” Melvin says.
Finding an affordable place to live in San Francisco as a retiree seemed like an impossibility, but Melvin was lucky to have a Certificate of Preference for housing, which helped him move to the top of the waiting list for 1100 Ocean Avenue. When he was told that a unit might be available for him, Melvin says he pretended he had to think about it. “But I signed the papers before I even walked in here,” he laughs. “This is all a blessing.”
The neighborhood couldn’t be more convenient for Melvin and for Melia, who catches a streetcar right out front for the five-minute ride to school. And for the first time in her life, the teenager has her very own room, where she can shut the door and have privacy for doing homework, snapchatting with her friends, or listening to music. “It’s awesome,” she says. She also likes the security and the community. “Everyone is really nice.” Her sociable dad agrees. “I’m a people person, I love people, I talk to everybody,” Melvin says.
On any given night in San Francisco, there are an estimated 1,500 homeless TAYs. “I would never go into an adult shelter,” Taylor says. “There is too much stuff going on in there. You’re better off riding the bus all night.” Taylor says she’s been pretty much homeless her whole life. She and her mother would drift from place to place until her mother, who is bi-polar, would take off without her for a time, leaving Taylor on her own to try to find a friend to stay with, sleeping outside when she couldn’t.
Taylor eventually landed at Larkin Street Youth Services, which offers a robust continuum of care and services to help homeless youth get off the streets. She discovered 1100 Ocean Avenue while it was still being built and knew it would be super convenient, right next to City College where she is a student. “I like it here,” Taylor says. “I feel very blessed, having a place to go home to, not having to worry, ‘Am I going to get kicked out today?’”
At 1100 Ocean Avenue, a full-time resident services coordinator manages a services and activity program aimed at helping all residents live stable and fulfilling lives. Through Mercy Housing partner First Place for Youth, TAY residents have access to a full-time case manager onsite, who can help with things like goal planning, coordination of services, conflict resolution, benefits/money management assistance, job training referrals, and community building/social activities.
Taylor believes that having a variety of demographics housed together gives her a fuller perspective on life. Because of her experience working in SROs, she knows that not everyone feels proud when they go home, and many feel stuck. But in this situation, Taylor sees possibilities. “I feel good, and like I can do something with myself,” she says. “It gives me more hope for something better.”
Taylor plans to transfer to San Francisco State University after receiving an Associate’s degree from City College. She sees herself getting a Master’s degree in sociology or social work, so she can give back professionally, as she does now with her youth advocacy. “I didn’t set out with the idea that I wanted to be an activist,” she says. “But you know when something is not right, and you don’t want it to happen to someone else.” She’s interested in public health – specifically the health determinants that affect us every day – and envisions creating her own nonprofit organization someday.
While San Francisco has one of the highest TAY rates in the country, as 1100 Ocean Avenue was in development the city had only 118 permanent supportive housing units set aside for this population. Importantly, while the expectation is that residents will eventually want to move on and up from studio-apartment living, Taylor and others like her will not age out of this housing and be forced to move. The hope is that having permanent housing, and the support that comes with it, will be a stepping stone.
“This came at the right time for me,” Taylor says about 1100 Ocean Avenue, because she was turning 25, the cut off for transitional housing at Larkin Street. But she doesn’t think this is where she will always be. She sees herself owning a house someday, a place where people in the family can come to visit. “Most of the people around me are living in SROs, or homeless, she says. “I’ve seen how life can end up, all the way at the bottom. I just always wanted something else.”