Miami Florida developer Matt Greer is excited about his new housing program for youths aging out of foster care, not only because it’s providing valuable affordable housing for people with few alternatives but because he’s convinced it can be replicated in other states.
The challenge is to provide housing for youths as they reach the age of 18 and leave the state’s foster-care program. Without a safety net and help in learning job skills and gaining further education, advocates say many of these youth end up homeless or in prison.
“This is a huge problem,” said Greer, chief operating officer of The Carlisle Development Group, based in the Miami suburb of Coconut Grove, Fla. “This is about nothing less than if we’re going to let these kids fall off track and [leave the state] to take care of them the rest of their lives.”
Post-foster care programs, called foyer housing, are not unique to metropolitan Miami. But Greer thinks Florida has successfully come up with an interpretation of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules on allowable residency in low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) housing that allows these youths to live in LIHTC units despite the fact that they are mostly students.
Florida Housing Finance Corp. Executive Director Stephen Auger agreed with Greer that the IRS rule could be interpreted expansively to allow these post-foster care youths to reside in LIHTC housing, said Greer, but Florida Housing lawyers initially disagreed. “I explained that it [includes] exemptions for certain people, including people receiving Job Partnership Training Act training, or other state or local job training,” said Greer. He said that should clearly include those in Florida who are receiving Road to Independence Scholarships, which provide about $892 a month per youth if they are attending school. Auger accepted Greer’s interpretation, and the state began to allow LIHTC housing to include these youth.
Carlisle set aside 20 units at its 208-unit Santa Clara II property, a 17-story project built atop a Metro Rail station in Miami. Santa Clara II, a $28.4 million development completed in January 2006, received about $23 million in tax credits from Florida Housing, which brought in about $19.1 million in tax credit equity, syndicated by CharterMac. Its financing also included a $6.5 million first mortgage from Neighborhood Lending Partners, a $2 million second mortgage from Miami Dade County Surtax (a program that subsidizes local development of affordable housing), and $753,894 in deferred developer fees.
The initiative was a risk for Greer, even though he remarked that as a developer, he likes challenges and isn’t afraid to take a chance. “There’s no additional funding, no set-aside, no state funding,” he said.
Greer hopes to see other state housing finance agencies join Florida in interpreting IRS student-residency rules to allow for post-foster-care youth in LIHTC housing. “If this turns out to be a Carlisle Development Group program, then it’s a failure. It only makes sense if it’s something other tax-credit developers and hopefully other market-rate developers can jump into,” he said.
A new home
Greer became a strong advocate of addressing the housing needs of these youth after he was invited to become involved in a program for foster children. He learned about the many challenges these young people face as they try to transition to independence, and he saw housing as a key component in their success or failure.
He remembers one Santa Clara II resident in the program who had been commuting a total of four hours each day – taking a bus to drop off her child at daycare, going to school, picking up and dropping off her child at a second place, and heading to her shift at a hotel. But because Santa Clara II sits on a Metro Rail site, its residents receive free transit passes, and the woman’s commute has been cut to 20 minutes.
Britney Tinker, an 18-year-old resident of Santa Clara II and a veteran of the state’s foster-care program, said her one-bedroom apartment at Santa Clara is much bigger and cleaner than the apartments she looked for elsewhere.
If this program did not exist, “It would be really hard for me,” said Tinker. “I would have to work two jobs, plus find a way to pay for my school and stuff, and manage to get my own place. I don’t know where I would be right now without this program.”