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Veteran and Former Truck Driver Excited about the “Long Haul” at Zilker Studios

June 23, 2023 | Posted in Housing, Affordable Housing |

In the Zilker Studios community room, Johnnie Miller inspects the spread at the Healthy Food Pantry, all free for the taking.

“Tomatoes , strawberries, sourdough breads… things that I can’t afford living on a budget,” said Johnnie. “I’m trying to save money and it’s so hard these days to save money. If somebody don’t want it, I’ll be happy to eat if for you.”

Johnnie was one of the first residents to move into the beautiful seven-story supportive housing community on South Lamar. In total, staff at Zilker Studios will welcome home 110 residents, many of whom have experienced homelessness.

Johnnie is one such resident. The veteran, former horse trainer and truck driver broke his back during a delivery in 2019, which left him unable to work. Then in 2020, the relative he was sharing a duplex apartment with in Georgetown died from COVID-19. Johnnie couldn’t pay the rent alone and after several months of notices, his landlord evicted him. He lived in his car for two weeks in a Walmart parking lot before moving into a motel with help from a church. Johnnie did find a temporary home in a home owned by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the VA also helped him get approved for an apartment at Zilker Studios.

Johnny moved in in late May. He was greeted with a new bed and a Welcome Home Basket that contained kitchen utensils, all of which he needed. “It’s just joy, joy, joy, said Johnnie about his new studio apartment. “Just having your own place where you don’t have to clean up anyone else’s mess.”

Johnnie Miller is thoroughly enjoying his new community. Partially paralyzed from the back injury, he especially likes the exercise room where Program Manager Norman Thompson lets him work out at his own pace. He’s also a regular at Lady Bird Gardens and is looking forward to rafting on the Lake and swimming in Barton Springs Pool.

Healthy Crowds Enjoying Free Zumba with Free Child Care

April 27, 2023 | Posted in Health, Healthy Initiatives |

On Friday mornings, the Homestead Oaks Learning Center is filled with lively Latin music and dozens of energized neighbors. Zumba classes started there in March with Jasmin returning to lead the class.

Eloysa Lozano said, “I come here because I love Zumba, I love dancing, I love exercising and I love the instructor.” For cancer survivor Mary Hart, it’s all about improving her health. Get inspired by watching video of the class in action below.

We are now providing free child care at all of our fitness classes. View the full schedule of
Health Initiatives events at FCHealth.info.

Celebrating $2.6 Million in Federal Funding for Solar Panels, Learning Centers

April 27, 2023 | Posted in Green Building, Housing, Education |

Foundation Communities is grateful to US Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) for securing more than $2.6 million in federal funding for our sustainability and education programs as a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Doggett joined us on March 14 at the Laurel Creek Learning Center to explain how the funding will help make our housing even more affordable for residents through the purchase and installation of solar panels at some of our apartment communities. Doggett said, “This will basically, we believe, reduce the energy costs for Foundation Communities by a little more than $100,000 each year.” That money can be used to the benefit of our residents and those who
use our financial wellness and health programs. Doggett praised us for leading the way in reducing our country’s reliance on fossil fuels. Foundation Communities is already the largest nonprofit producer of solar power in Central Texas with 1.5 megawatts of generating capacity.

The funding will also help our Learning Centers better assist families with free afterschool and summer learning programs. You can watch video of the entire announcement event below.

Family Finds a Home and Pursues Dreams at Laurel Creek

April 27, 2023 | Posted in Housing, Affordable Housing, Financial Stability |

Edward and Rebecca Henderson had dreams of owning a farm. The parents of three girls, they were leasing property in Bastrop County on a “handshake” deal – they could one day buy it minus what they had paid in rent. But In 2016, the owner sold the property at a higher price and gave the family one month to move out.

“We were angry and felt betrayed,” said Edward. “I had to watch my wife cry. But we also realized we still had each other, we had God’s grace, and we had time to turn things around.”

They didn’t expect that turnaround to take six years. Unable to find an apartment they could afford in the Austin area, the Hendersons moved into a tiny home owned by a church shelter. Their next move was into an apartment in Giddings. After a few years, they decided they were too far from Austin, as Edward’s delivery work was costing too much in gas and time away from home.

In 2021, the family moved into an extended stay hotel in Austin. The hotel hired Edward, so that became their home, but a year later, he was told he could no longer live and work there.

They had two weeks to leave. That’s when Rebecca found out about Foundation Communities. She called us, and received a call back the next day saying her family could move into Laurel Creek if they met all the qualifications. They did.

Edward said, “It’s been a blessing; a supportive community where we feel calm and like we don’t have to worry.”

The Hendersons moved in through our Children’s HOME Initiative (CHI), which includes a significant rent reduction and services like financial coaching. The family’s financial situation is rapidly improving, which has them dreaming again about one day owning a farm.

Client Counts on Prosper Center for Taxes Done the Right Way

February 28, 2023 | Posted in Tax Services |

Ana says the location of Foundation Communities’ Prosper Center North is very convenient for her. But, that’s not the real reason why she has been going there for the past five years to complete and file her tax return.

“Filing your taxes sometimes is scary because you don’t know what you’re doing. You want to do the right thing. So, it’s better to come to someone that can guide you and show you what you need to be doing step by step,” said Ana. “They are very friendly and very organized. They’ll tell you what you’ll be needing. So, that’s why I like to come up here.”

Ana also says the staff and volunteers are very thorough and they double-check everything. She says the service was especially helpful during the pandemic, when she wasn’t able to work. Our IRS-certified tax preparers helped her not only receive a tax refund to help with mortgage payments and household expenses. She also received the Advance Child Tax Credits and the Earned Income Tax Credits, money they saved for emergencies and for their daughter’s future college expenses.  

 Ana believes the Tax Help program is especially helpful to Latino and African-American taxpayers in Central Texas because it’s free and there’s always bilingual staff available to help if necessary. Even with that, we hear from some taxpayers that they prefer to pay for tax preparation services, thinking that will somehow help them get a bigger refund. Ana doesn’t agree with that thinking.  

 “The benefit to coming up here is you’ve got people who are doing their job the right way,” said Ana. “They’re honest, they’re telling you this is what’s going to be best for you, versus going somewhere else where they’re telling you, no, you don’t have to report that, so you can get 100 bucks. At the end of the day, you’re the one who’s going to be in trouble with the IRS because you’re not being honest.”  

In this video, Ana talks about why she keeps returning to Prosper Center North for tax preparation.

 The Prosper Tax Help program will be open seven-days-a-week through Tax Day, April 18, 2023  at five  community locations in Austin & Round Rock. 

Formerly Homeless Man Calls Living at The Jordan a Blessing

February 22, 2023 | Posted in Housing, Affordable Housing |

Ronn Davila is passionate and sincere as he describes the five years he spent homeless as his chance to start over. Once a successful business manager, Ronn was unemployed when he became separated from his wife and four children in 2011. He had no money in savings due to years of poor money management.

Ronn began living in his truck and spending his days searching for work, free food and a safe place to sleep and shower. “I didn’t feel helpless because my faith and my drive is such that this is not who I am, this is what I am now,” said Ronn.  “I need to try to fight to get my life back.”

After experiencing homelessness for five years, Ronn’s truck broke down and he was forced to move into homeless shelters in downtown Austin. This turned out to be a blessing. He not only had regular meals, he also got a case manager who informed him about what programs were available to help him. They also gave him a voucher to work out at the YMCA. Managers at the “Y” were so impressed by how hard Ronn was working to lose weight and by his positive attitude that they hired him to clean the facility after hours. That allowed Ronn to save enough money to rent an apartment. He was no longer homeless.

From there, Ronn spent the next five years seeking out and working better paying jobs in construction, and saving his money so he could move into apartments that were nicer and in safer parts of Austin. In 2018, Ronn found out Foundation Communities would soon open a brand new, affordable apartment community in the posh Mueller development.

Ronn wanted so much to live in The Jordan at Mueller that he decided to step out on faith. He went back to living in his truck to save money, and he made sure he was one of the first people to apply for an apartment. Ronn won over the property managers with his story and his determination. They went the extra mile to help him get approved to move in. Ronn told the managers, “I’ll bring back the paperwork, I’ll go get pay stubs. I’ve got the money. You want it in pennies? Whatever you need.”

After four years, Ronn Davila is still enthusiastic about living at The Jordan. He’s constantly looking for opportunities to help his neighbors with car repairs or food. He also helps maintenance workers keep the community clean. Click on the video below to hear Ronn Davila describe the moment he found out he was approved for an apartment at The Jordan at Mueller and the day he moved in. You can help our neighbors like Ronn find a fresh start in affordable housing by supporting Foundation Communities during Amplify Austin March 1 – 2 at foundcom.org/amplify.

 

Client says don’t waste your money. Get free tax preparation from the Prosper Centers

January 4, 2023 | Posted in Tax Services |

For Norma Hernandez, her relationship with Foundation Communities’ Prosper Tax Help started with a television news report and a phone call. She heard the reporter say they were offering tax services for Central Texans free of charge, but it sounded too good to be true. She called the phone number and was so convinced she made an appointment.

“I’m very satisfied because they explained it to me step by step, and I understood everything. So, I didn’t have to ask questions,” said Hernandez.

And, the explanations were made in Spanish, Norma’s native language. She not only received an income tax refund, Norma also took advantage of the Advance Child Tax Credit program – monthly payments the federal government sent qualified parents before they filed their taxes. It brought some much-needed relief.

“The economy is, well, very difficult,” said Hernandez. “So, [the Advance Child Tax Credits] helped me with expenses for my children, for clothes and things they needed for school, to pay my bills, get them up to date because they were a little late. So, for me it was perfect.”

Hernandez says she will continue coming to Prosper Tax Help to file her taxes, especially since Prosper Center South is conveniently close to her home. She regularly tells co-workers to take advantage of the free service as well, and keep the 200 or 300 dollars they’ve been spending on tax preparation in their pockets.

 “I highly recommend that they come, because I am very satisfied with this place,” said Hernandez. “They can ask for the information that they need. And the best thing about this is that they do it in their language.”

Click on the video to hear why Ms. Hernandez talk about why she continues to have her taxes prepared at the Prosper Center.

 The Prosper Tax Help program will be open through April 18, 2023 at five community locations in Austin & Round Rock. Beat the rush and file taxes for FREE! Our Prosper Center North and South locations are now open 7 days a week with daytime, evening and weekend hours available! Visit ProsperTaxHelp.org or call 2-1-1 to schedule an appointment today! 

Foundation Communities Seeks More Tax Help Volunteers at Kickoff Event

December 3, 2022 | Posted in Tax Services, Get Involved, Volunteer |

Many Central Texans are feeling the financial pinch from inflation. A great way to help our lower-income neighbors recover much of their hard-earned money is by volunteering as a tax preparer with Foundation Communities’ Prosper Tax Help program. Our IRS-certified tax preparers provide free, high-quality tax services every year for thousands of Central Texans, often helping them get refunds that amount to a third or more of their annual income.

Our Tax Help program will need over 600 volunteers for the 2023 tax season. No prior experience is required to volunteer. We  provide all the training needed, and we offer flexible schedules. Next year, we’re hoping to return more than $30 million in tax refunds, but we can’t do it without help.

The Learning Center at The Jordan at Mueller Apartments hosted our Tax Help Kickoff on Friday, December 2nd. Staff members from Prosper Tax Help and Foundation Communities Volunteer Engagement shared information about the upcoming tax season, training, scheduling and answered questions about volunteering with Prosper Tax Help. You can watch the entire event below.

If you’ve never volunteered with us before, you can sign up here.

If you have a volunteer account with us already, you can sign up here.

 

Record Number of Families Request Support from Holiday Assistance Program

December 3, 2022 | Posted in Housing, Affordable Housing, Financial Stability |

Seven-year-old Zoe is a big fan of unicorns, Santa Claus and the magic of Christmas. Her mother Heather wants to keep it that way. Last year didn’t bring as much holiday cheer. Heather and Zoe’s father lost their home, and then they split up, leaving the mother and daughter living off Heather’s small disability check. They were forced to bounce around between the homes of relatives and friends. Heather says Zoe handled it with maturity.

“She says mommy the world doesn’t revolve around money. It revolves around love. No matter what, mommy’s gonna make sure I don’t go without,” said Heather.

Click on the image to watch a message from Heather to the Holiday Assistance program sponsors.

Zoe was right. In July, Heather was accepted in our Children’s HOME Initiative. The program provides rental assistance for their apartment at Homestead Oaks. Also, Heather is excited to be working for the first time in seven years. They’re looking forward to enjoying the holidays alone and receiving gifts through the Holiday Assistance program. Zoe is expecting Santa to bring her a Gabby’s Dollhouse. Heather’s wish is that soon they’ll be in a financial position to donate to other families who need assistance.

Our Holiday Assistance Program invites generous Central Texans to sponsor a family living in one of our affordable communities – purchasing the gifts they’ve requested or gift cards. We’re also accepting donations to help families and individuals who are struggling to pay rent, and to help them buy groceries, holiday meals and household items. The program takes on added importance this year with prices rising. This year, we’ve had a record number of families, about 750, request support. The deadline to sign up to be a sponsor is December 5th, but you can still join the giving at foundcom.org/holiday.

Family Glitch Fix: More Families Eligible for Subsidies on the HealthCare.gov Marketplace

November 15, 2022 | Posted in Healthy Initiatives, Financial Stability, Health |

Since the first Marketplace Open Enrollment period after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, many families have missed out on financial assistance for Marketplace plans due to what many referred to as the “family glitch.” Under this rule, an offer of employer-based coverage was considered “affordable” for an entire family if it met the definition of affordability for the individual offered the coverage. Due to this rule, many families who could not afford to enroll their entire family on their employer-based coverage also missed out on subsidies that would make a Marketplace plan affordable for those family members.

Thankfully, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a new rule in October right before Open Enrollment for 2023 Marketplace plans began. Under this rule change, affordability is now determined based on the cost of adding the entire household to the employer-offered plan. If the cost of employer coverage is more than 9.12% of household income, it is considered unaffordable, and family members can receive subsidies when they sign up for a Marketplace plan.

“Our message to families who have previously been unable to afford a Marketplace plan because one member of the family had an employer offer of coverage is to come see us before December 15. You may be eligible for financial assistance that can significantly reduce the cost of health insurance for your entire family,” says Kori Hattemer, Director of Prosper Programs at Foundation Communities.

Foundation Communities is the largest nonprofit Marketplace enrollment assistance program in Central Texas, with more than 100 certified Navigators for Open Enrollment. Since 2013, our Health Coverage program has helped more than 45,000 Central Texans enroll in affordable health insurance. For the current Open Enrollment period, which runs from November 1, 2022 to January 15, 2023, the Foundation Communities team of Navigators is providing free enrollment assistance by phone and in-person at our two Prosper Centers. To have coverage that starts on January 1, 2023, community members must enroll by December 15, 2022.

Anyone who needs health insurance can visit ProsperHealthCoverage.org or call 512-381-4520 to schedule an appointment. They can also walk into either of Foundation Communities’ two Prosper Centers in Austin during program hours. Since Open Enrollment for 2023 plans started on November 1, Foundation Communities has helped more than 1,000 community members enroll in health insurance, with thousands more appointments available before the December 15 and January 15 deadlines.