Austin nonprofit says its affordable housing model helps end homelessness

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Progress is slow but steady. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness says on any given night, about half a million people in America are experiencing homelessness.

That’s according to a new strategic plan the USICH released. 

There’s some good news, though. The plan says 13 percent fewer people were experiencing homelessness last year compared to 2010. The number of people who were sleeping on sidewalks or in parks has also gone down.

The agency says 17 percent fewer people were unsheltered in 2017 compared to 2010. 

One solution the agency suggests to try to end chronic homelessness is building more affordable apartments.

In Austin, a nonprofit called Foundation Communities says it’s found a model that works. 

“Our organization is committed to being the lifetime owner of properties,” Julian Huerta, deputy executive director of Foundation Communities, said. “We’re not developing housing just to flip it and move on to something else. We’re going to be the lifetime owner.”

The organization has about two dozen affordable apartment communities in the Austin area. 

“Foundation Communities has been a lifesaver for me on actually many different levels,” said Dalton Duffie. 

A lot has changed for him since 2007, when he went to rehab.

“All of my adult life, since the age of 17, I started drinking and using, and never looked back,” Duffie said. “I was able to function as an addict. As an alcoholic, I was a functioning one. Until I ran into one [drug] I couldn’t function on and keep a job. That’s when I lost everything.”

Duffie explained he lost his wife, car and everything he owned. 

He spent 2 years, 3 months and 3 days in rehab. When he came out in 2009, he was working a job that paid $10 per hour.

When asked how challenging it was finding a place to live, he answered, “It was not possible. If you do, it’s a place you really wouldn’t want to be in, and I had come from those places. I did not want to be back in a place that would lead me right back to the life I was trying to get away from.”

That’s when he learned about Foundation Communities.

He waited for four months for a spot to open up. When he moved in, “They helped me get my life back on track, from one end of the spectrum to the other,” Duffie said.

Each Foundation Communities property has social workers on site.

“They help you navigate,” Duffie said. “They help you learn the things you don’t know, the things you’ve forgotten, the things that, they help you get your driver’s license back. They help you get your social security cards back. They help you navigate back into society as nobody else would do.”

Those easily accessible services, Huerta said, help people get back on their feet.

“Somebody who’s homeless can get a place to live that’s affordable to them, and it has supportive services available on site,” he said. “This is something that works. It gets people out of homelessness.”

Huerta said about 50-60 percent of their funding comes from the federal government through the low-income housing tax credit program.

“The Austin area gets about $30 million a year in funding from the federal government to do new affordable housing,” Huerta said. “We’ve been lucky enough over the last few years to get some of that.”

He said because Foundation Communities has proven over the years that their model of placing social workers and counselors at the apartments has helped to get people out of homelessness.

“The amount of money that’s been available overall has been the same. But you know, we’ve been really successful in getting that money for projects that we’re working on because we have a strong track record,” Huerta said.

The nonprofit is set to open a new apartment community in the Mueller area in 2019.

They have another building planned for 2020 in northwest Austin. 

But that’s not enough to fill all the needs. “Most often, we have to tell people we don’t have something for you right now. You can get on the wait list,” Huerta said. “Things will be opening up.”

He said most of their properties have a waitlist of three to six months. 

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