Home is far more than just a building. Home is where our most treasured possessions are kept, where families grow, life unfolds, memories are made and where, if nothing else, we can be ourselves. Life without a home is incomprehensible to many of us yet there are thousands of homeless and low- income families in Central Texas who don’t know where they’ll sleep tonight.
But, thanks to local nonprofit Foundation Communities, each year more than 2,000 working families and lower-income individuals find a comfortable, attractive home that they can actually afford. Considering that a family must earn more than $17 an hour to be able to pay for the average two-bedroom apartment in Austin – a frightening statistic when compared with the average salaries for common jobs like receptionist ($12.48 an hour) retail salesperson ($11.34 an hour) and waiter ($7.42 an hour) – the support Foundation Communities provides is quite literally lifesaving.
Established 20 years ago by University of Texas student housing cooperative members, Foundation Communities was founded with little more than a stipend from UT and a lot of hard work and community generosity. By 1992, with about $500,000 in grants, the organization had managed to purchase its first four housing properties. The success of the non- profit has enabled Foundation Communities to buy or build an average of one additional housing property each year since. And though homegrown in Austin, the group now has 14 properties including three in the Dallas area.
“I think the thing I hear most often from our clients who are parents is, ‘I have stopped the cycle of poverty for my kids.’ Our programs help them work toward goals and make real changes in their lives. When that happens, their kids see them differently,” says Robin Bradford, development director for Foundation Communities.
While the majority of Foundation Communities’ clients are working families, the organization also helps many part-time students (full-time students aren’t eligible for housing services), elderly, physically and mentally disabled people and those living with addictions.
“Families come in all shapes, sizes and persuasions, and we’re here to help all kinds of people,” says Walter Moreau, Foundation Communities’ executive director.
Though Foundation Communities charges rent for each of its apartments and duplexes (about 80 percent of the nonprofit’s operating revenue comes from rental property income) the rents are between 30 and 50 percent less than the average rents in the same neighborhoods, making them affordable for families on tighter budgets.
But Foundation Communities’ mission doesn’t stop at providing a home. With an annual budget of about $15 million, the group is also able to offer guidance for clients with chronic health issues, disabilities and literacy problems; provide 40 apartments with case-management services for particularly vulnerable families; offer classes, financial and job coaching, and after-school programs; furnish its properties with learning centers and computer labs; and even provide a free community tax center to help clients prepare their income taxes each year.
And with board members like real-estate investor and philanthropist Lew Aldridge leading the push the for more donors, many in Austin’s gay community are taking notice and volunteering their time and dollars to the cause.
“Lew brings that apartment-owner experience and his 10 or more years of philanthropy work in the community,” Moreau says. “People say, ‘If Lew Aldridge is involved, I’m going to get involved.’ There’s a really substantial gay community in Austin that cares a lot about nonprofit work, and that’s thanks to people like Lew.”
As 2009 dawns, Moreau and his Foundation Communities staff are keeping their fingers crossed that they can add another property to their growing list of housing communities. The nonprofit is in the process of trying to buy a six-acre piece of land in the Greenbelt located near a metro rail stop. Ideally, says Moreau, the property would include 150 apartments for mixed-income families and an onsite daycare center, and be built using green-building principles. Since most families’ incomes are consumed by housing, transportation and childcare costs, the new property would be a tremendous help for many Foundation Communities clients.
“If we can build our next project and hit on all three of those elements, I think we’d consider it extremely successful,” Moreau says. “In a way, it’s sort of our dream project.”