Rent Assistance Helps Bus Driving Resident Get Back in the Driver’s Seat Financially

June 18, 2024 | Posted in Financial Stability, Affordable Housing, Housing |

Stacey Peña Kambeu Kamsu says driving a city bus is the best job she has had, but it also led to one of the most horrific days of her life. A resident of The Jordan at Mueller for four-and-a-half years, in April of last year Stacey was driving her route when an agitated man got on board. He started playing music loudly, and when Stacey asked him to turn it down, as her training requires, the man became irate. He punched Stacey in the nose and then stabbed her in the face. Fortunately, another passenger talked the attacker into exiting the bus. He was arrested and later convicted in the incident.

Stacey went on workers’ compensation while she healed from her injuries. The program only paid 60 percent of her usual income, which put a financial strain on her and her 14-year-old son. She was also traumatized by the attack, so she requested that when she returned to work she only be assigned daytime routes. Her unique request, as well as a change in management caused Stacey to have trouble getting back on the bus driver schedule.

In January of this year, Stacey’s workers’ comp payments ended. She used her tax refund to pay her February and March rent, but when April’s rent was due, she didn’t have enough money to cover it. Government agencies weren’t able to help and churches offered very little. Stacey was afraid the next stop for her and her son was homelessness.

“There are folks like myself that are literally in dire straits and don’t know where else to turn and other agencies are out of funds,” said Stacey.  “My next plan was to go buy a tent and figure out where I was going to put it.“

The property manager at The Jordan sympathized with Stacey’s predicament and urged her to call Joe Ceceno, a Foundation Communities Financial Wellness case manager to inquire about getting assistance with her rent. Stacey had received help with rent assistance during the pandemic, but she thought she was no longer eligible. Ceceno helped Stacey get her utility bills paid and got her approved for the Foundation Communities Rent Assistance program to cover her May rent and some late fees. Now, Stacey is back at work and all caught up on her bills. She says it wouldn’t have been possible without help from Rent Assistance. Click on the video below to hear her thoughts on the program.

Thanks largely to donations from supporters, in the first six months of 2024, the Foundation Communities Rent Assistance program has already helped more than 75 families and individuals with ’emergency rental assistance’ totaling over $79,300. But, there’s still plenty of 2024 left.

Foundation Communities manages homes where thousands of low-income families and individuals can succeed. Let us show you how at our next Open House in one of our 28 affordable communities. Join us for an informal program with our executive director, which includes a walking tour, inspiring stories from our residents, and ideas about how you can get involved. Click here to RSVP!

Sprucing Up, Scaling Up Affordable Housing on Lamar Square

June 24, 2024 | Posted in Affordable Housing, Housing, Uncategorized |

Just steps away from the buzz and bustle of South Lamar Boulevard, is a city block called Lamar Square. The Mary Lee Foundation has been growing and operating a campus on that square since 1974 providing people with physical and intellectual disabilities rehabilitation services, and empowering them to live independently as part of a supportive, affordable and accessible community. In recent years, the nonprofit itself has been forced to seek support.

The majority of residents in the eight-acre square have extremely low incomes and special needs. Due to its very low rent revenue, Mary Lee Foundation has had limited funding for maintenance and repairs on the more than 200 housing units and lacked the capital to replace the housing. As a result, most of the housing on the Square was well past its useful life, or in very poor condition. The situation seemed overwhelming for an organization whose expertise is serving people with special needs.

Two years ago, Mary Lee’s Executive Director, Russ Walker reached out to Foundation Communities’ Executive Director Walter Moreau. Walker said, “In talking with Walter just about low-income housing, I just realized that we were way out of our field, and we didn’t have the resources, the manpower, the connections, the funding to turn this around quickly enough.”

The talks then pivoted to how the two organizations could work together to reinvigorate Lamar Square. Last month, a partnership was finalized. On a campus now named Lamar Square, Mary Lee Foundation is continuing to provide physical therapy services and some affordable housing for people with disabilities and Foundation Communities has taken over the management and redevelopment of most of the affordable housing.

“We are excited to partner with Mary Lee to create a new community that will be designed for their clients and for new families in the heart of central Austin,” said Moreau.

The nonprofits have outlined a redevelopment plan to rebuild the oldest buildings, relocate current tenants on-site, preserve the buildings that require minimal rehab. The planned construction of 400 new apartments will create much needed affordable homes for more than 500 people – families, single adults and residents with disabilities. They will be able to live in a transit-rich, high-opportunity part of Austin. All apartments will be for households making at or below 60 percent of the area’s median family income (MFI) with most deeply affordable. Lamar Square will include a Learning Center for youth after-school and summer education, adult education and fitness classes. Also, on-site case management, a Healthy Food Pantry, and a park area with outdoor amenities. Foundation Communities hopes to be complete with all phases of the project in 2027.

Not surprisingly, talk of these changes has reverberated among residents of the Square for months. That’s especially true for residents whose homes were designated for demolition, like Don Jones. Jones has lived on the Square since 2016 and he had been concerned that residents might be displaced, or relocated into substandard housing. He now feels reassured. “A big key thing that y ‘all (Foundation Communities) have done very well was follow up with communication, sending out letters about this, that, and the other and answering questions,” said Jones. “That was a confidence builder.”

Jones is also a member of the Mary Lee Foundation’s Board and a veteran. He wants to be sure that the two organizations will work well together to form a “crucial social family” where all residents can feel they belong. He says so far residents have been given every indication that that will take place. For more than 30 years, Foundation Communities has been striving to support the success of residents through a business model of creating affordable housing plus services.

Click on the video below to hear Don Jones talk about what he believes is the most important goal for the Lamar Square partnership from a resident perspective.

Our Community Health Worker Program – Connecting Clients with Assistance and Hope

June 24, 2024 | Posted in Health, Healthy Initiatives, Affordable Housing, Housing, Financial Stability |

Two years ago, Orisbel San Miguel (left) came to the United States from Cuba to find a better life for herself and her daughter, who is now 11 years old. While her life here was better, it was far from perfect. They moved into her father’s home in the Austin area. They were two of the eight people who were sharing his apartment with just one bathroom. Orisbel got a job cleaning rooms at a hotel, but the pay was low and her work hours were constantly being reduced. 

This past February brought a breakthrough for the mother and daughter. Orisbel came to our Laurel Creek Apartments with a friend who had told her about our no cost Healthy Food Pantry program that was open to the public. The friend also had an appointment with another Foundation Communities Health Initiatives service, a community health worker who would connect her with agencies who could offer whatever assistance she needed.

“We can provide all kinds of assistance legally,” said Community Health Worker Brenda Garcia. “We work with different agencies. It’s like, for example, if I ask you do you need help with rent, utilities, food, medical, health insurance, I ask all these kinds of questions.”

Garcia found out about Orisbel’s situation. She helped her apply for assistance, including deeply affordable housing through our Children’s HOME Initiative (CHI) program. Six weeks later, Orisbel and her daughter had their own apartment in our Crossroads community. Health Initiatives and CHI worked together to help the family get furniture and household items. Orisbel says her life is much less stressful because she doesn’t always have to worry about work, money and food.

Asked about the Community Health Worker program, Orisbel said, “It’s a life saver. For a person that knows nothing about the culture of this country. It gives hope.”

Community Health Worker Maria Nuñez sharing information about mental health resources at Zilker Studios

Currently, our Health Initiatives program has two community health workers who spread the word about their services at Foundation Communities properties all over Austin at Healthy Food Pantries, Health Fairs and at events for residents. They also host their own events to share information about health concerns with the public. Currently funded by Austin Public Health, the workers are getting busier every month due to referrals from other nonprofits. And, they’re making a difference for many of our neighbors. “We don’t stop until they find what they need,” said Garcia.

 

As for Orisbel, her CHI caseworker is helping her find a more reliable job and apply for food benefits. She’s also planning to go back to school so she can create a better life for herself and her daughter. In February, she came to Laurel Creek  just hoping to pick up some food for the week. Now, she has new hope for the future.

 

 

 

Murals Become Part of the Big Picture for Foundation Communities Housing

April 25, 2024 | Posted in FC Creates, FC Creates: Arts, Housing, Uncategorized |

Whether they’re enjoying coffee hour or playing a bingo card, residents of Zilker Studios say they feel a sense of calm and serenity from the flower-filled mural that graces a large wall in their community room. Calm is what the artists with Creative Action’s Chroma Collective had in mind last July, knowing that many Zilker Studios residents have experienced homelessness. A post of Chroma Collective’s Instagram page says, “Design was inspired by the residents’ desire to have a floral piece that was both calming and fun, and we took a lot of inspiration from 70’s wallpaper vibes.”

Residents picked the flowers from a handful of design choices. Carla Rangel, shown here, says they love the mural and they loved playing a role in its creation. “This is the place where we bond and we form community,” said Carla. “I feel like [Foundation Communities] has really tried hard to make this a place of peace.” Chroma Collective threw in a second mural, a similar floral painting near the main floor’s stairwell.

This is not the first, or even the most recent mural painted at a Foundation Communities development, and it won’t be the last. Last year, we allocated funds from the development budget for the flower mural, and for the huge mural of longhorn cattle in a field of wildflowers that adorns The Loretta Apartments. With a grant from Texas Commission on the Arts the project grew from murals on three concrete dumpsters to a three-story pictorial, which involved renting a boom lift.

The central figure in the mural is Loretta, a calf that once lived on the property and was named after singer Loretta Lynn. That calf is now happily grazing in Leander. Residents and others love the mural and its story, including artist, J Muzacz.

“I wanted to bring home the idea that we honor our predecessors and have a special reverence for the land on which we inhabit,” said Muzacz. “I initially connected with Foundation Communities through the Loretta mural art call because the mission of the organization resonates with why I paint murals and make public art. I believe everyone is entitled to a fair and equitable quality of life, including the enjoyment of colorful and inspiring art and murals on a daily basis!” You can watch an incredible video of the creation of this mural on Instagram.

Foundation Communities will open Balcones Terrace this year for single adults, and plans are underway to include a mural there.  Executive Director Walter Moreau said, “Some of our building walls make a wonderful canvas to share artwork that celebrates a sense of home and community.”

The connection between murals and Foundation Communities dates back to 2016 when we were clearing land to build Lakeline Station Apartments. A mural of Willie Nelson was found on a garage building in the middle of the field. Managers thought it was “really cool” so they salvaged most of it… the part that was painted on a garage door. “Then, we had the idea of hanging it on the side of Bluebonnet Studios where it would be more visible,” said Moreau.”We were able to track down the artist, Sam Barboza and he was willing to help with the new installation and freshen up the paint.”


The story of another mural that stands behind Garden Terrace Apartments in South Austin has a different tone. In 2019, six residents of that community for single adults passed away. Other residents and staff felt a strong desire to preserve the memory of the neighbors they had lost over the years. Thanks to a grant from NeighborWorks’ Community Leadership Institute and guidance from Austin Creative Alliance, planning began for the mural.

A short time later, the pandemic struck. As a result, the mural project went onto the back burner, but by the start of 2022 it was back on with plans for “The Hope Mural” to be painted on two 8’ x 4’ wooden panels. It would include hearts, clouds & stratosphere, wildflowers, Lady Bird Lake with the Austin skyline, the Garden Terrace complex and its residents. The memorial artwork was a collaboration of Imagine Art, Art-a-Gough-Go and Foundation Communities residents and staff. The Hope Mural was unveiled with an elaborate event on March 25, 2022. You can read more about is on the Imagine Art blog.

In the summer of 2022, Foundation Communities decided to have a mural painted on a large wall near the property manager’s office at Laurel Creek Apartments. We hired Russell Freeland, a former Foundation Communities maintenance employee who had occasionally used his background in art to organize events for residents. Freeland was asked to come up with a concept that would engage residents.

The project called “Our Many Paths Home” features many colorful pathways radiating toward an image in the center that represents the facade of Laurel Creek’s main building. Freeland says his own past struggles with poverty and trauma showed him how seemingly small things can be enough to keep a person afloat, emotionally. He decided to ask residents to add images to the mural. “These are all people’s paths, and I just wanted them to place the things that were significant to them on their path as they came to this moment in time and this place,” said Freeland. Freeland says for some residents the activity has evoked quite a bit of emotion. Of course residents will come and go. The mural at Laurel Creek has removable panels so managers can always make room for new residents to illustrate their own path home.

Foundation Communities has built a reputation for creating affordable communities that are also attractive, and for supporting Austin’s creative community. Seeing the way these murals have instilled a sense of pride in residents and staff, and how they have beautified and enlivened walls and community spaces, our plan is to continue to incorporate art in our communities as funding allows.

Note: Foundation Communities is currently seeking sponsorship funds for the planned mural at Balcones Terrace. Contact Michelle Le at Michelle.Le@foundcom.org to learn more. 

 

 

Following a Health Crisis, Resident Finds a Supportive Community at Spring Terrace

March 1, 2024 | Posted in Uncategorized |

There was a time when Susan Taylor was content living alone, enjoying social interaction at work managing stores and day care centers. Then one day, her health began to fail and she was hospitalized. When Susan went home, her daughter felt she needed to be part of a supportive community.

“My daughter wanted me to be somewhere where I had people around me,” said Susan.

Fourteen years ago, Susan moved into our Spring Terrace supportive housing community, and she has never looked back. She takes full advantage of the services provided by staff, from regular visits with Nurse Rita, to riding on the transport van to appointments and stores, to enjoying free, healthy food at the weekly Food Pantry, Coffee Hour and Supper Clubs. Recently, Susan enrolled in a case management program and that opened the door for her to meet with an on-site therapist once a week. It allows her to focus on herself. Susan looks for ways to show kindness and compassion to the people around her, making sure they are safe and supported, not expecting anything in return. She is truly a wonderful neighbor.

During Amplify Austin, we’re highlighting stories of FC residents who benefit from the free, on-site support services at each of our properties – services like Learning Center programs, Healthy Food Pantries, healthy living and wellness, and community events – all programs we can offer because of donations and community support. Amplify Austin is underway. You can support Foundation Communities and residents like Susan by donating and sharing our Amplify link: bit.ly/AmplifyFoundCom.

Forecasting a Summer Opening for Parker Lane Apartments

February 28, 2024 | Posted in Healthy Initiatives, Green Building, Affordable Housing, Housing, Education, Health, Uncategorized |

At Foundation Communities, we’re excited that construction crews with BEC Austin have us on track for a summer opening for Parker Lane Apartments. The interest list is already open for the 135-unit affordable community in Southeast Austin as we prepare for the time when we can begin welcoming home families. Parker Lane Apartments will have 24 deeply affordable apartments set aside for families in our Children’s HOME Initiative who are at risk of becoming homeless. The Learning Center may be fully operational by the beginning of the school year.

Parker Lane Apartments sits on eight acres near Parker Lane and Oltorf Streets, on what was the site of Parker Lane United Methodist Church for 60 years. The church closed its doors, but church officials are continuing its legacy of community service by offering Foundation Communities a long-term lease agreement for the property. Besides affordable housing, Parker will have a Learning Center for After School and Summer Learning programs for children, as well as educational and healthy living programs for adults. There will also be a Healthy Food Pantry to provide healthy food options for the community at no cost. Also, a half-basketball court, a large courtyard with a playscape, and space for a community garden. Another nod to the church’s legacy, we are re-seeding the front of the property to grow Texas wildflowers.

Parker Lane Apartments is also possible thanks to $15 million in tax credits approved by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The City of Austin pitched in a total of $9,663,669, a combination of voter-approved General Obligation Bonds and Project Connect funds. Our major debt and equity partner is Wells Fargo Bank, and other funders include the St. David’s Foundation and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas.

In keeping with Foundation Communities’ commitment to energy-efficient and sustainable initiatives, we are building Parker Lane Apartments with the intention of receiving an Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) 3-star certification. Similar to other Foundation Communities properties, Parker will have low-flow plumbing fixtures, LED lighting, and low-VOC paint for better indoor air quality. The building is also ready for the addition of solar panels to the roof when the funding becomes available.
Finally, during the design phase we were intentional about including trauma-informed features. The architecture and colors of the building will assist with wayfinding. The bright colors on the facade indicate the places where pathways connect the parking areas to the courtyard, and the locations of the stairs and elevators.  Other features enhance a feeling of safety, like not having dead-end corridors, having clear sightlines to reduce surprise encounters, and locating the laundry room across from property management offices.

Prosper Tax Help Kicks off its 20th Year Larger than Ever

February 27, 2024 | Posted in Tax Services, Financial Stability |

The 2024 Tax Season is the milestone 20th year for Foun­dation Communities’ Prosper Tax Help program. It also comes with some firsts. The program will offer free tax preparation at a record 1O different sites in Travis and Williamson Counties, including the first ever site on an Austin Community College campus.

Just a short walk away from the new ACC ACCelerator tax site, the new season for Prosper Tax Help was officially kicked off on February 9. ACC Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Shasta Buchanan explained that the new tax site was envisioned as a way to help ACC students and the community get help filing their taxes and secure larger tax refunds.

“We proposed the idea of establishing tax prep­aration site right here at ACC Highland Campus.” said Buchanan. “The response from Foundation Communities was immediate and enthusiastic.”

Foundation Communities Executive Director Walter Moreau put the 20th year for Prosper Tax Help into perspective with statistics – more than 313,000 tax return filed, and more than $520 million in tax refunds returned to clients. Tax Help staff member and client Belinda Valdez explained how the program has helped her receive tax credits she didn’t even know existed. And, longtime Prosper Tax Help supporter Congressman Lloyd Doggett encouraged Central Texans to not miss out on money they’re entitled to by visiting a Prosper Tax Help site to have their taxes done free of charge. You can watch video of the entire kickoff event below.

This year, Taxpayers with children can claim up to $7,430 in Earned Income Tax Credits. You can learn more about our free tax preparation services and make an appointment at ProsperTaxHelp.org or by calling 2-1-1.

Foundation Communities Nursing Program is a Recipe for Recovery for Arbor Terrace Resident

February 6, 2024 | Posted in Health, Housing |

For Amplify Austin this year, we’re featuring residents who are finding success with help from supportive services offered by Foundation Communities. Please donate to our Amplify Austin campaign here, and help us continue to fund these services. 

A resident of Arbor Terrace, Richard McNatty says when he moved in more than a decade ago, he thought all he needed was a place to live. He had no idea how important our Supportive Services nursing program would be for him.

From his origins in rural New York to working the railroads in Minnesota, to Montana where he co-owned a restaurant, Richard’s journey is as diverse as his cooking skills. Landing in Austin with dreams of attending culinary school, financial barriers dashed his goals. In 2012, Richard was struggling to make ends meet in a minimum wage kitchen job and was facing homelessness when a serendipitous encounter connected him with Foundation Communities.

In 2016, Richard was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer but triumphed through treatment and remains in remission. During his recovery, he was referred to the Supportive Services team nurse, Rita DeBellis who he fondly refers to as his “guardian angel.” Nurse Rita continues to go to medical appointments with Richard. She takes detailed notes, which she uses to remind Richard of all the doctor’s orders and to keep Richard’s sister informed about his condition.

“The best part about living at Arbor Terrace is getting to visit with Nurse Rita,” said Richard. “She keeps me on track.”

Collaborating for years with the team’s therapist has also enriched Richard’s personal growth and self-awareness. He says he’s feeling better these days and his tasty baked goodies have made him a favorite among both the staff and residents. Richard McNatty’s story is one of resilience, community and a passion for life and cooking!

Family Celebrates Holidays at The Loretta after Housing Crisis – Apartments Still Available

December 18, 2023 | Posted in Housing |

The opening of The Loretta Apartments in NW Austin couldn’t have come at a better time for Glenda Dennis and her daughter and son. After the rent for her townhome went up last year, the family barely had enough money to live on. Then, the child support payments Glenda counted on to supplement her income became unreliable. She got behind and they were just days away from being evicted with no plan for where they would go.

The Dennis family moved into the new community at 13649 Rutledge Spur last month through our Children’s HOME Initiative for families at risk of becoming homeless. We still have affordable 1, 2 and 3-bedroom apartments available for applicants who meet the low-to-moderate income and other requirements. Residents will have free access to the Afterschool and Summer programs at the Learning Center at nearby Lakeline Station Apartments, as well as Healthy Food Pantry and fitness programs. The leasing office is open Monday through Saturday to accept applications. Walk-ins are welcome. Appointments can be made at TLmanager@foundcom.org or by calling 512-381-5560.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Dennis family’s story and see them celebrate their first Thanksgiving in their new home in The Loretta.

Another Harmonious Start to Open Enrollment at Prosper Center

December 16, 2023 | Posted in Uncategorized |

Before treating the crowd at Prosper Center – South to a healthy dose of great music, Austin musician and HAAM member Kelsi Creek talked about struggling with chronic ailments and being without health insurance for four years. Kelsi now has health insurance through the Healthcare.gov Marketplace.

Foundation Communities kicked off Open Enrollment on November 1. Executive Director Walter Moreau urged uninsured community members to let our team of health insurance navigators help them select the plan that will work best for their health care needs and budget. Austin City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said health coverage is a right and not a privilege, while Congressman Lloyd Doggett said many Texans who qualify for zero-premium plans don’t enroll. Open Enrollment for Healthcare.gov Marketplace insurance runs through January 16. You can watch video of the Prosper Health Coverage Kickoff event at the video below.