As the affordable housing crisis continues to develop, there’s a large group in need of housing assistance that requires our attention—youth aging out of foster care. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, more than 23,000 young adults age out of this system every year. After reaching the age of 18, 20% of them will become homeless, only one out of two will have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24, and seven out of 10 girls will become pregnant before the age of 21. This major problem has caught the attention of many advocates and continues to gain traction. One group in particular who’s fighting for this population is The Vecino Group.
It’s a development firm dedicated to a community’s greater good. The team there seeks to address each community’s broader issue and strive to complete projects accordingly. The Vecino Group took note of the growing issue of youth aging out of foster care with nowhere to go or anyone to turn to. In response, the developer is building affordable housing like Intrada in St. Louis with the use of low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs).
This is the first permanent supportive housing in Missouri for youth aging out of foster care, and it is located in the Holly Hills neighborhood. Stacy Jurado-Miller, chief mission officer of The Vecino Group, says the idea for Intrada was inspired by listening to the news. “An NPR story on the challenges the youth aging out of foster care face encouraged us to come up with a development to address these concerns.” Further, Jurado-Miller and the Vecino team wanted to “give these young adults the tools and opportunities to succeed as adults.”
In partnership with Epworth Children and Family Services, Sustainable Management, and Carondelet Community Betterment Federation, The Vecino Group conceptualized Intrada to help this youth population in need by taking into account the specific challenges they face, most notably the financial stress and need for emotional support. With this in mind, the teams designed and built a facility that would address these needs.
This development combines one- and two-bedroom units for seniors, families, and youth aging out of foster care. The multigenerational community provides a beneficial dynamic. The senior residents offer mentorship to the youth living on their own for the first time out of foster care. Jurado-Miller recalls a 22-year-old resident who didn’t know how to work the record player in the common room, so she sought assistance from a senior resident. This is one instance in a range of examples that shows the daily benefit of the multigenerational approach to the development.
The development is also notable for its design and on-site services. A full-time social worker provided by Epworth is available on site for the youth with special needs. Additionally, the office is purposely designed to resemble a kitchen, the desk more like a kitchen table, and the common rooms are spacious living rooms. According to Jurado-Miller, “These areas are designed to be less intimidating and more welcoming.” In these ways and more, “the intergenerational approach mirrors the community at large and the different age groups with its integrated development—it transcends generations.”
This project, which opened in the spring, has been a success thus far, but several challenges had to be overcome to get there. It took three rounds of LIHTC applications before the team received the necessary funding.
The development earned a $694,000 federal LIHTC award. Raymond James Tax Credits Funds is the syndicator, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch is the investor.
The project also received a $654,000 state LIHTC award, with Monarch Private Capital as the syndicator.
There are no state-funded projects in Missouri for youth aging out of foster care, so LIHTCs were crucial to making Intrada a reality. Because of LIHTCs, the team was able to eliminate debt, and in addition to this, it maximized the number of units. This created lower rents for Intrada’s residents while retaining an adequate operating budget and supporting services. This is especially beneficial and encouraging for the youth aging out of foster care, as their rents are extremely affordable. This helps in creating a positive outlook for them with an affordable, decent place to live.
Minimizing the project’s cost also allowed them to furnish the 10 units for the youth in need, which eliminates barriers of upfront costs. Additionally, the team created a Safety Net Fund, which allocates $1,000 a year to each young adult resident to meet ancillary needs. This includes new clothes for job interviews and books for school, among others.
Although the funds took a few years to secure, the positive side is that The Vecino Group was able to do the project right and find the best location during that three-year period. “The location at Holly Hills is beautiful with a bus stop out front and a nice park across the street,” says Jurado-Miller. “It has a long history of economic security as well.” Because of the nature of the location, the team experienced NIMBY opposition, which served as another challenge in completing this project. But with the support of political leaders, it was able to move forward.
Projects like Intrada are so inspiring, The Vecino Group is also working on similar supportive housing in Reno, Ohio, and Saratoga, N.Y. “The issue exists in every state across the country,” says Jurado-Miller. With more projects to address this youth population in need, firms like The Vecino Group provide more than an affordable place to live. They give these young adults hope for the future.