A newly opened affordable housing complex in Anaheim, California, is offering its formerly homeless and low-income residents a new lease on life.
El Verano consists of 54 units in a three-story Spanish-style building and provides its senior residents with services to help integrate into the community.
“We’re designing our places where people can live in dignity,” Rochelle Mills, president and chief executive of Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO), told The Epoch Times.
The property’s grand opening was held July 22, but it received its first resident last December.
Mills said the process to fill a single unit is “arduous and time-consuming, taking anywhere from three to five months, with some cases taking nearly a year.
“This isn’t unique to El Verano,” Mills said. “This is how affordable housing [works], particularly when you’re talking about permanent supportive housing.”
Mills said one resident was working with a case manager from the regional center to secure a spot at El Verano, and it took the resident about seven months to move in.
“There’s just so many layers of red tape—that are put in for good reasons, but they also keep good people out,” Mills said.
The “arduous” process of red tape and paperwork can sometimes leave the resident too discouraged to proceed with the process, he said.
Many homeless individuals have a notion that affordable housing is “a shelter where you’re afraid to close your eyes at night,” since they may have had unpleasant experiences at shelters that social workers helped them into before, Mills said.
But permanent supportive housing is a long-term solution for residents that offers services to help them “get acclimated, build trust, and get connected with each other and their community,” Mills said.
El Verano’s onsite case management and resident services include arts, storytelling, and journaling. There is also assistance with meals and transportation for errands.
“We have a panoply of services, amenities, and opportunities for engagement at this site,” Mills said.
The nine dual units are occupied by seniors who are caregivers taking care of disabled children.
IHO had to fill up the units by July 1, or else they would have been penalized and might lose tax credits.
The unit’s affordability is 20 to 60 percent of the area’s median income.
The property has a mixed population; about half its residents are formerly homeless, and the other half are low-income earners.
Residents at El Verano use vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which covers the cost of the market-rate units, such that tenants need only pay 30 percent of what they earn.
Mary Lou, a resident of El Verano, said in a statement that her mother was helping her financially until she was diagnosed with leukemia.
“My world collided, I was officially homeless,” she said. “So, I finally got a friend who came out, packed me, and brought me here. I have a home now; I would like to tell the people here that built this place—thank you so much for giving me the chance. Thank you for allowing me not to be homeless anymore.”
Another challenge is keeping the residents, Mills said.
The first year of the residents’ stay in the permanent supportive housing “is critical in getting people to be comfortable and engaged,” otherwise they could have the feeling that they’re “in the wrong place,” since they aren’t used to staying in high-quality housing.
Mills said: “We’re not simply trying to get people into a place and move on. We’re trying to get them into a place where they become peer mentors and help the other residents who come in and may be struggling to understand, should I be comfortable here because I’ll have to leave. It’s much more authentic for one of their neighbors to say, ‘No, you’re home.’”