Housing for good: Making the finances work
New funding mechanism could pay for needed services at the Opportunity Center
Figuring out how to balance the budget of the Opportunity Center for the past 10 years has been as challenging as learning how best to serve chronically homeless clients
The nonprofit Community Working Group, which led the effort to build the facility, has contributed between $150,000 and $250,000 per year to keep the day services center open (about $85,000 per year); provide support to the nonprofit LifeMoves for case management services; provide space for Peninsula HealthCare Connection, the medical clinic; and provide rental assistance to Opportunity Center clients as needed, according to Don Barr, a board member.
On the housing side, the Community Working Group has paid for repairs that the property management company, which is contracted, has not been able to fund.
As with any affordable-housing project, Opportunity Center tenants are not paying nearly enough rent to fund the operation and maintenance of the building. For two-thirds of them, Social Security provides their sole income.
When the Opportunity Center opened, residents of 66 of the 88 apartments paid anywhere from 20 percent to 45 percent of the area median income for Santa Clara County. The Opportunity Center did not receive any additional payments for these units.
“What that means is (for) some of the apartments, the only income received is the 20 percent — or $404. It is very challenging,” said Pamela Law, property manager for the John Stewart Company, which operates the housing.
Rents for these units range from $404 to $909 for a studio, $432 to $973 for a one-bedroom, and $519 to $1,167 for a two-bedroom, according to Law.
In addition, 22 apartments were designated as Project-Based Section 8 Voucher units, in which the tenant pays 32 percent of his or her income and the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County pays the balance.
Facing ongoing shortfalls, the Opportunity Center in October was able to convert 33 more apartments to the Project Based Voucher program. So each of these units is now bringing in as much as $1,000 more per month.
Today, the housing’s operating budget is about $1.2 million.
The significance of the additional vouchers is huge, leaders say: The cash will fund both maintenance for the building and services specifically for the residents, tailored to helping them reach their potential.
Although residents are encouraged to use the OC’s drop-in center, nonprofit service provider LifeMoves has been facing staffing and funding shortages that have affected residents’ use of services, Law said.
“The day center does a great job for clients and residents, but they don’t have the bandwidth,” she said. “If (residents) have to make an appointment and wait for a week, it’s hard.”
Ideally, for every 20 residents, there would be one full-time supportive services staff, said Warren Reed, vice president of the John Stewart Company.
Now, residents will get that dedicated help, potentially by the Community Working Group’s new strategic partner, Abode Services, which is the area’s largest provider of homeless services. These services will enable residents to make greater progress toward self-sufficiency, leaders said.
While some of the new help will be the same as what’s provided at the drop-in center, tenants will also get other assistance, Law predicted.
“Once residents are established, their goals change from basic survival. Now, they’re looking to reach their potential in other ways,” such as through education or work, she said. “Residents are more likely to be seeking that kind of guidance than somebody who is not housed.”
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