San Antonio—A home for teenage mothers and their babies had to turn away 250 girls and their newborns last year because of limited space.
To help more of these vulnerable families, Seton Home opened 24 new efficiency apartments this year, its 25th anniversary. Just like the girls that it serves, Seton Home had to overcome big odds.
The project could not support any permanent debt because the young residents have no income and the landowner, the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio, does not allow debt to be carried on the property. To make the new apartments possible, much of the financing came from low-income housing tax credits. Seton Home represents the first time that tax credits were used in Texas for transitional housing for minors, according to project sponsors.
“The girls we get here, their backgrounds are so foreign and so unimaginable,” said Margret Starkey, executive director of Seton Home, which is affiliated with the Catholic Archdiocese but has its own board and operates as an independent nonprofit organization.
The residents are girls who were homeless or at risk of being homeless. Sixty-five percent of the teenagers were runaways, and 95 percent suffered physical or sexual abuse. They come from all over Texas, with most placed at Seton Home by Child Protective Services. Most stay six to nine months, but some have lived at Seton Home for as long as two years.
“The goal is to get the girls out on their own and be a nurturing parent and to be self-sufficient,” Starkey said.
A new building brings the total number of housing units to 40.
Co-developed by DMA Development Co., LLC, in Austin, the new project is composed of efficiency units of about 500 square feet. It also includes many common areas, including a community room, daycare center, teaching kitchen, laundry room, and playground. In addition to shelter, Seton Home offers food, health care, parenting classes, job training, and academics.
The organization requires the girls to participate in a parenting program and attend school. A charter school is conveniently located nearby. Once a girl completes high school, she must enroll in a career development program.
Seton Home is supported by fund-raising events, grants, and donations. It also receives reimbursement from government agencies for the girls who are placed there by Child Protective Services or juvenile probation authorities.
The new $5.7 million housing project was financed with $3.1 million in equity for housing tax credits awarded by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and syndicated by Enterprise Community Investment, Inc. It also received $825,000 in HOME funds from the city of San Antonio. That left about a $1.8 million gap, which was filled with grants from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas, Enterprise Community Partners, and various foundations.
The apartments are reserved for youth, so all of the units are slated for residents earning no more than 30 percent of the area median income. The residents do not pay rent.
In addition to raising funds and structuring the deal without permanent debt, Seton Home officials overcame other challenges. Because most of the girls are minors, they typically cannot sign leases, and their full-time student status prevents them from renting tax credit units.
Project leaders found a solution: Pregnant teens live in the older facilities. Girls who have delivered their babies, however, are eligible for the new tax credit apartments because they are considered an adult and head of their household.
For the mothers and babies, it is home.