Joy Horak-Brown – Housing Provider

Tony Rodriguez: Here we are at New Hope Housing in Houston, Texas, and we’re going to meet Joy, who runs this, and we’ll find out a little bit more about it.

Tony Rodriguez: Whoo, automatic doors.

Joy: Oh.  Tony, how are you?

Tony Rodriguez: Hi.  Sorry.  Very good.

Joy: Thank you for coming to visit us at 4415 Perry.

Tony Rodriguez:

Joy: We love having you here.

Tony Rodriguez: Sure.

Joy: Come on in and let me show you around a little bit.

Tony Rodriguez: Sure, of course.  I’m excited to finally meet you.  In a gorgeous building, yeah.

Joy: Thank you so much.

Tony Rodriguez: .

Joy: Well, come on in.

Tony Rodriguez: Okay. All right.

Joy: We like to create a sense of place.  Our buildings are at the nexus of architecture and nature, and part of the art is to say, to honor, where a neighborhood has been.  So there’ll be photographs from the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, that are of this neighborhood and this spot, and now we’re a part of the neighborhood’s history.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah, it gives even more meaning to it, yeah, and you’re here to stay.

Joy: We’re here to stay.

Tony Rodriguez:

Joy: We build to last.  We use top architects.  We’ve won local, statewide, national, international awards, for our properties.  Not just the architecture but the entire development cycle and the useful purpose that it serves for an individual, because that’s the most important part.  That’s what we’re about.  For the community and then for that broader community of Houston and for the Houston region.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah.  You know, as we came here, we were sitting on those couches over there and nobody really knew, but all your staff came by and said, “Hi,” to the various people that were sitting out here like they knew them personally, and I, I really enjoyed that.  That’s the–

Joy: They do know them personally.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah.

Joy: And customer service is something that we very much emphasize.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah, you can see it.

Joy: There’s no reason for us to have less customer service here than if you were paying $1100 or $1500 a month .

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah, and even more than that, it felt more like family than, you know, I mean, it did to me, watching it from a distance.  It was like, “Hey,” you know.  It just felt really–

Joy: That’s lovely for you to say.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah.

Joy: One of the things that happens in this building a lot, and of course as you know, this is single-room occupancy housing.

Tony Rodriguez: Oh, yeah, didn’t know that.

Joy: So it’s adults living alone on very low incomes and many have been formerly homeless, and indeed chronic homeless living on the street for a year or more.

Tony Rodriguez: Oh, I see.

Joy: But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a family.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah.

Joy: So every day around the time that school lets out, there’s a trail of children who come into this building who are, you know, staying with auntie or uncle or grandparents or indeed, maybe, parents, and then at some hour they’re picked up again and away they go.  So we do have a family life here.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah.  It’s very nice.  It’s good.  So how are you funded?  How is this?

Joy: Well, we’re funded in a complex way, as most affordable housing is, Tony.  So it’s a public-private partnership.

Tony Rodriguez: Oh.

Joy: It’s always led by the city.

Tony Rodriguez: Oh, I see.

Joy: We can’t get anything done without the city.  We don’t leave home without them, and I imagine it’s the same way in San Diego.  So the city is first, followed often, and we hope always, by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and allocation of tax credits, and then Federal Home Loan Bank and varying charitable foundations.  Business and individuals who are kind enough to write us a check.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah.  We made a visit to the Houston Endowment and that office is incredible.  Oh.

Joy: Well, they are, of course, our leading foundation funder.  They’re one of the largest foundations in the country.  Houston’s very lucky that way in that we have a long, rich history of philanthropic giving.

Tony Rodriguez: Well, it’s a beautiful building and anybody would be happy to live here, I’m sure.

Joy: Well, I hope so.

Tony Rodriguez: We don’t have many in San Diego like this.  We have a few, but we need more.  That’s our problem.  We need more, more housing units, permitted housing units.

Joy: I want to tell you, it wasn’t easy to convince me that this would work.  We were doing single-room occupancy housing but we weren’t doing permanent supportive housing, which implies that it’s a street homeless population, that there are rental supports and that there are robust wraparound services.  We weren’t doing that, and it was hard to convince me that it would work, and it was only when– I’ll tell you what made the difference for me.  It was when the City of Houston stepped up.  When there was the political will to say that, “This is a priority for us.  We’re not going to put up with this any longer.  We’re going to do everything we can so that we have a city, a compassionate city, and that we include all,” and I’m very proud of Houston.  I’m proud of Texas for this.  So we felt we needed to give it a try.  I’m going to tell you what, it works.  Does it work for every individual who moves in?  Is everyone successful?  Of course not.  But it works for most people, and for those it doesn’t work, as our vice president of on-site operations loves to say, “We help people find their next destination.”

Tony Rodriguez:

Joy: We help them find a place that will work for them, help them pack their bags.  We don’t want an eviction on residents’ records, if there’s anything we can do to prevent that, but mainly we want people to stay stably housed here.  This is permanent housing.  You can live here however long you’d like.

Tony Rodriguez: That’s nice.  Yeah.  I think permanent is a word that, where I live, kind of bothers some people.  They don’t really, they have a– how did you deal with the issue of, like, building a building like this in a neighborhood?  I mean, neighbors don’t really want a permanent–

Joy:

Tony Rodriguez: –body of people that are poverty-stricken, homeless.  It scares them.  How did you deal with that?

Joy: Yeah.  If you ever meet anyone who wakes up in the morning and wishes that New Hope Housing would come build a building next door to them, I want you to give me a call.

Tony Rodriguez:

Joy: It just doesn’t happen.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah.

Joy: But once you get moving and once people realize the power of philanthropy and the power of political will and the number of people who have come together and once they see a building such as this, you get something really lovely on the ground, then hearts and minds begin to change.  Not always, but we have seven buildings now.  We have two properties under construction, more than 62 million dollars’ worth of construction, and in California terms that doesn’t sound like much.  We have to go times three to get that to make any sense in your language, and one of our properties we’re doing now is supportive housing for families.  So it’s homeless and at-risk families.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah.  Some people that think that, you know, by giving people permanent housing that it’s a giveaway, it’s a freebie, and people are going to take advantage of that.  What kind of people do you have living here, and do you see that happening?

Joy: We have all kinds of people living here.  What they have in common is they’re living alone and they have an extremely low income.  The typical income here is less than $10,000 a year.  Even though you can have an income that’s higher than that, as much as $35,000 and still live here, typically that isn’t what we see.  We see people who are elderly, people with a disability, whether it’s physical or cognitive.  There are people in recovery.  There are the working poor.  We have security guards who live in the building.  We have people who work in warehouses.  We have people who work at the downtown baseball and basketball stadium.  Anyone who has a, you know, a job with a small income.  There are veterans.  There are people on a teacher’s pension, people on social security, whether it’s social security disability or because they’re elderly.  We really haven’t had an experience of large numbers of people who are riding the system, to be clear about it.  We have people who truly need this support and this help, particularly those who are disabled, and realistically not everyone is going to be able to have a full-time job or even a part-time job, depending on their health circumstance.  But we have a number of people who work both part-time and full-time and we help them get up on that curve and get back to work.  People stay here, even though it’s permanent, and you are welcome to be here as long as you would like, we have individuals who stay here generally around 24 to 30 months is a typical stay.

Tony Rodriguez: Oh, I see.

Joy: The same as it would be in any apartment complex anywhere, and it’s important to remember that this is not a social service program.  Yes, we are housing plus services.  That’s really important, but the heart of it is that we’re a place to live.  We’re an apartment complex.  You sign a Texas Apartment Association Lease when you move in here, a one-year lease, and we have all the same rules and regulations that any really expensive apartment complex would have.  We’re gentler with our tenants because we want to give people a second chance.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah, of course.

Joy: We want to be sure to help them understand how to live a responsible life if they’ve fallen away from that, and many have.  But that doesn’t mean they never had a responsible life.  It just means they fell away, and our job is to help nudge them back.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah.  Boy, that’s amazing.  All right.  Thank you.  Even though I’m not from here, I thank you for what you do, because it’s amazing.

Joy: Well, thank you for coming and speaking to me, and, you know, one of the things I hope you noticed when you came in here is we have a front desk that’s staffed 24/7.

Tony Rodriguez: I did.

Joy: That’s because we know who’s in this building at all times and how long they’ve been here.

Tony Rodriguez: Ah, that’s wonderful.  Yeah.

Joy: And we have rules about that too.  The door isn’t just open for anyone to come and–

Tony Rodriguez: It’s a safeguard.

Joy: –kind of perch here.  It’s a safeguard for residents, and as one resident told me once, the thing he loved most about being here was he said, “When I come home, I know my stuff is going to be here.”

Tony Rodriguez:

Joy: And I thought, “Wow.”

Tony Rodriguez: I can relate to that.

Joy: I did what you did.  I started laughing.

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah.  Okay.  So I know this is housing plus services.  So let’s say I moved in and I lost my job and wasn’t able to pay my rent.  What kind of services would you offer to help me with that?

Joy: Well, that’s an important question, because you’ve signed a Houston Apartment Association Lease, so you’re bound to pay your rent and you have a problem, and that’s where we come in.  We have a social service staff and we have emergency rental supports that we can access and we’re careful about that.  Because you asked me a little bit earlier, “Are people riding the system?”

Tony Rodriguez: Yeah.

Joy: We’re careful about that.  We come, we talk to you, we assess your problem, and you have a valid problem, Tony, you’ve brought to me.  You’ve lost your job.  So we will help you see to it that you have the proper medical care, see to it that you have rental supports for short-term emergency assistance until you can get back on your feet.  Our case managers will be here to work on your life plan, to make sure that you have benchmarks and that you know you can call on us.  We won’t force you to accept our services.  We can’t do that legally and we wouldn’t want to do that, because you’re an individual with a life and opinions and desires of your own.  We’re here to facilitate what you want to have happen and to help guide the path.

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