Barry B. has a place to call home.

The 21-year-old has lived at The Palace, a new supportive housing development for youths aging out of foster care in Long Beach, Calif., for the past year.

“My apartment has meant everything to me,” he says. “This apartment has definitely given me the stability to continue school, work, and have an opportunity to better my life, my future, my career. It’s hard to go into class and try to focus on what the professor is lecturing on when you are worried about where you are going to sleep at night.”

Barry works at Starbucks, serves as a peer advocate at The Alliance for Children’s Rights, interns with a film producer, and studies performing arts and business at the local community college.

Prior to moving into The Palace last year, he was staying in a transitional housing program, and before that he was homeless.

“I don’t know where I would be [without The Palace],” he says. “I would probably be another statistic, another foster youth being homeless.”

Instead, he takes pride in being able to tell his friends, “Let’s go to my apartment.”

Although the number of young people experiencing homelessness is hard to determine, the best available data reveals that about 150,000 youths between 18 and 24 years old use the adult homeless service system each year, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

More shocking: 60,000 families headed by a young parent (between 18 and 24) use the adult family system each year.

Increasing activity

Barry’s home at The Palace was created by LINC Housing, a longtime affordable housing developer. The nonprofit converted an abandoned 1929 hotel into 13 studio apartments for youths aging out of foster care.

“It is a population in dire need of housing,” says Hunter Johnson, LINC president and CEO.

Nationally, about 30,000 youths age out of foster care each year at 18 or, in some states, 21. According to one estimate, 36 percent will be homeless within 18 months of leaving the system.

Another 20,000 young adults age out of the juvenile justice system every year.

Their age, lack of preparation for the job market, and no family support make them at risk for homelessness. Those who leave foster care before their 18th birthday cannot legally sign a lease. And, those who are 18 and older often cannot find landlords willing to rent to them.

That’s why affordable housing developers are stepping up to serve this hard-to-house population.

New York City, with innovative developers like Common Ground and the Lantern Organization, has been an early leader in providing supportive housing for young adults, but other areas are seeing new projects rise.

There is a growing amount of activity, particularly in Los Angeles, where 187 units have recently come online or will soon open. About 54 percent of apartments are in scattered-site or mixed-tenancy developments while the rest are in single-site projects exclusively for transition-age youths, says Richard Cho, director of innovations and research for the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH).

“The field is too new to say what the best models are, but what’s nice is we are seeing a greater variety of choices,” Cho says. Developments targeting homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths have also opened their doors in recent years.

LINC is developing its second project for transition-age youths, this time going a step further to serve teen moms and other young adults with children of their own. Mosaic Gardens at Huntington Park will feature 15 apartments for this group plus nine units for the general population.

In Northern California, Affordable Housing Associates (AHA) has developed two communities targeting young adults.

In 2008, AHA developed the 79-unit Madison at 14th Apartments in Oakland. The team set aside 20 apartments for youths at risk of homelessness while the other 59 apartments serve low-income families and seniors.

The organization took a different approach on its next project, making all 15 apartments at its Harmon Gardens development in Berkeley for transition-age youths.

“Without a family support network, without social networks, without income, there are so few housing options,” says Susan Friedland, executive director of AHA. “Landlords aren’t willing to take a chance without parents to guarantee rents.”

Because Harmon Gardens has been open for only a year, it is too early to tell which model has the best outcomes, according to Friedland.

“What we have learned is that supportive services within the housing works best for the youth and that the services needed to keep youth housed are quite intensive,” she says.

The general argument for the integrated housing model is that it is more like the real world, and the youths can learn from new role models. An argument for the exclusive housing model is that the residents will feel more supported among their peers.

In Florida, Miami-based Carlisle Development Group has made it a point to try to include post-foster care individuals into several of its larger affordable housing communities, starting in 2006 with 20 units at its 208-unit Santa Clara II development in Miami.

CEO Matt Greer successfully pushed for a wider interpretation of the Internal Revenue Service residency rules to allow these young adults to rent apartments in low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) developments.

Many of them are in school, but full-time students are generally not eligible to rent a LIHTC unit. However, there are some exemptions for certain people, including those receiving job training. Greer said it should also include those in Florida receiving Road to Independence Scholarships, and the state began to allow the housing to include those youths.

On the national level, legislation has also been introduced to allow formerly homeless full-time students to be eligible for LIHTC apartments.

Financing issues

The biggest challenge of building supportive housing for youths and other special-needs populations is that these projects have to be financed with little or no permanent debt.

During the recession, the unemployment rate for young workers reached record levels. Residents have limited incomes, and that means rents have to be kept extremely low and operating budgets will be tight.

To finance the approximately $6 million Harmon Gardens development, AHA received a reservation of housing tax credits from the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee.

However, the economic downturn at the time was causing the LIHTC market to struggle, and investor interest was limited.

To address this problem, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 made available funds to replace investor equity. AHA, which is merging with another nonprofit, Satellite Housing, was able to receive more than $3 million in exchange funds.

The team also assembled funding from other sources, including the city of Berkeley’s housing trust fund and state Mental Health Services Act money.

The Palace had a similar price tag at $6.2 million. LINC financed the project through several sources, including nearly $3 million from the Long Beach Housing Development Co.

And like Harmon Gardens, the project also received a reservation of LIHTCs and then utilized the credit exchange program to get about $2.6 million.

The limited incomes of the residents mean that rental housing vouchers are usually needed.

Since 1992, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Family Unification Program (FUP) has provided Sec. 8 housing choice vouchers to families whose children have been placed in foster care or are at risk of placement because of issues related to housing. In 2000, FUP eligibility was expanded to former foster youths between the ages of 18 and 21 whose housing is inadequate and who were at least 16 when they exited foster care.

There is no time limit for families, but youths using FUP vouchers are limited to 18 months. No new FUP vouchers have been issued since 2010.

At AHA’s Harmon Gardens, rental subsidies are provided through either project-based Sec. 8 vouchers or the state Mental Health Services Act program. Both allow residents to pay just 30 percent of any income they have for rent.

LINC has also secured Sec. 8 vouchers for its residents at The Palace.

Best practices

A major focus of these housing developments is providing the young residents with extensive services.

One of the big issues remains how to best match service-supported housing with the transition-age residents. Some of the young adults will have a multitude of challenges and may need longer-term assistance, says CSH’s Cho.

One of the moves that Carlisle Development likes to make is to have tenants sign an agreement with a social services provider, says COO Kenneth Naylor. It is often just symbolic, but it emphasizes the importance of taking part in the programs that are offered.

Separately, it’s also been very helpful when developments have had strong access to public transit and employment, he says.

At The Palace, LINC has teamed with United Friends of the Children, a nonprofit that specializes in helping foster children and former foster children. Residents participate in the organization’s Pathways program, which teaches important life skills such as financial literacy, conflict resolution, and stress management. There is also advocacy counseling, career services, and educational guidance.

In renovating the old hotel, LINC included extra space to accommodate the different supportive services. The firm also equipped the site with more computers than at its other housing developments because residents may be in school and will need the computers to do homework or to apply for jobs.

AHA has also partnered with organizations that specialize in working with the young adults to deliver services. The Fred Finch Youth Center delivers programs to those at Harmon Gardens, and First Place for Youth is working closely with residents at Madison at 14th. Both developments have a full-time case manager and are supported by additional staff from the service organizations.

“It is absolutely essential to have robust social services,” says Friedland. Efforts are under way to refine a typology of youth homelessness to match the level of service to the level of need, says Cho. CSH is working to pilot a triage tool based on current research.

“We hope to learn more with the newer models that are being created,” he says.

That will help make sure that Barry B. and other youths get the housing and services they need for a better life.

“What’s nice is we are seeing a greater variety of choices.”

—Richard Cho, director of innovations and research, Corporation for Supportive Housing