For youth transitioning out of the foster care system, finding housing in Houston can be challenging. City council will vote on funding on Wednesday that could help build a housing campus to tackle the issue.
The Hay Center Campus is a $39 million affordable housing development along the Gulf Freeway near downtown that will provide stable housing and wrap-around services for youth aging out of foster care. The 50-unit complex consists of 17,000 square feet of commercial building for wrap-around services and 41,000 square feet of residential space.
The Hay Center is a program under Harris County Protective Services for Children and Adults. The center has been providing services for over 1,400 foster care youth a year who are aging out of the system, and former youth between 14 to 25 years old. The center provides services that include education, employment, housing, well-being, and providing individuals needs for youth.
“We’ve always had a dream of building a campus where we could provide our wrap-around services on site and also provide stable, safe housing for youth aging out of foster care,” said the center’s director Mary Green.
Green said the design of the campus was developed with input from multiple stakeholders which included the most important input – the youth. She said housing is the one area that youth struggle with after they age out of foster care. According to Green between 150 – 200 youth age out of foster care in Harris County each year.
“When youth leave foster care at 18, as you can imagine like any 18 year old, they’re really not prepared to live alone and try to navigate housing by themselves,” she said. “We have all the support services in place, but finding housing our youth can afford, is safe, and stable is incredibly challenging.”
Green said due to the center providing services to youth beginning at age 14, the center knows the youth that are getting ready to age out of foster care. When the new campus opens, they’ll be introduced to the center starting at age 17 along with the center’s other housing options. Youths will be able to choose where they want to live and from there, they will sign an application, and if approved, at 18 they can sign a lease.
“Just as long as they are aging out of foster care at 18 for us that is the only requirement,” said Green.
The Hay Center does have a privately owned program called Bridge Housing, that supports youth with rental assistance and the youth can live in a unit for 6 months to a year to help them get stable while the center finds them permanent housing.
The city and county is funding the project through Hurricane Harvey Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Funds. The city will contribute $5 million if approved and the county is contributing $21 million and other sources of funding will be contributed to the project.
Once the campus is completed, Green said the success rate will be evaluated by two measures – how long a youth stays in stable housing and how much a youth can contribute to their own rent. Rent for the housing units will be based on the fair market value at that time.
“That is part of staying housed,” she said. “If you are not able to contribute some towards your rent at some point, you will not be able to maintain your housing. Even though we will be using vouchers for youth to be housed here, they still will be responsible for parts of the rent depending on their job and utilities.”
The campus is also designating 5 units for a single parent aging out of foster care with a child. Green said oftentimes it’s even hard for youth with a child to find stable housing.
“We want to make sure we have options for those youth too where they can live with their child and have those support services on sight,” she said.
The center is expected to open in 2024.