From Homeless to Hopeful: Affordable Housing Gives Family New Life

Six months ago, Kailei Johnson was on the Internet when something caught her eye. It was an article about a new affordable housing development opening up near her in West Sacramento called West Gateway Place. The photos of the apartments were beautiful — it didn’t look like any other low-income housing she had ever seen.

At the time, Kailei was homeless and struggling to take care of her three children: Seth (14 years old), Hannah (12), and Caleb (4). Health troubles prevent her from working, so she relies on Social Security and CalWORKS to pay rent, groceries, and doctors’ bills (two of her children have asthma, and her oldest son deals with mental illness). Two years ago, they had all been living in a two-bedroom apartment in Woodland, which she could afford without a problem. But when her rent increased, Kailei — like so many Californians hit by the housing crisis — was forced to move out with nowhere to go.

Kailei and her family bounced around from hotel to hotel, but the lack of stability took its toll. “It was one of the hardest times in my life,” she said. Eventually, Kailei’s oldest son had to stay with his grandmother, because moving around so much was worsening his already fragile mental health. “It was a very hard decision for me,” she explained, “because a selfish part of me wanted to keep him with me, but I knew that his best interest would be for him to go somewhere where he had stability.”

After a social worker told her that she qualified for low-income housing, Kailei applied to live in West Gateway Place. She and her two kids moved in on January 31, 2017, and it has changed their lives. Her older son will rejoin them this summer after completing the school year.

West Gateway Place is the first affordable housing development to finish construction that is funded by California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), specifically the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program. As the future of climate policy is debated in Sacramento, TransForm just released a report with the California Housing Partnership and Enterprise Community Partners about how AHSC is successfully addressing some of the state’s biggest challenges.

As of 2014, there were nearly 3.5 million more families in need of affordable housing in California than there were available low-income rental units. In addition to creating affordable housing, the AHSC program also has positive impacts on public health, transportation, climate, and local economies. This highly effective program deserves even more funding to keep strengthening disadvantaged families and communities.

West Gateway Place is a mixed-used, infill development with 77 units affordable to families earning 30% to 60% of the area median income (up to $55,140 annually for a family of four in West Sacramento). It’s also located near public transit, bike paths, pedestrian walkways, shopping, downtown, and other amenities that make it easier for residents to go car-free, saving them money and sparing the air from pollution.

One of Kailei’s favorite things about living in West Gateway Place is the location, because everything is within walking distance and she doesn’t have to drive all the time. “It’s prime,” she said. “You have shopping right down the way, downtown right across the bridge, Raley Field right there…you really couldn’t ask for much more.”

Being able to afford an apartment with more bedrooms also means that for the first time ever, kids can finally have their own rooms. “They are just ecstatic.” Kailei laughed. “I feel amazing as a parent to be able to give them that.”

West Gateway Place received $2.6 million in 2015 from the AHSC program, with another $4 million awarded to create better bike lanes and sidewalks in the surrounding area. In 2015 it was one 28 housing developments throughout the state that received AHSC funding.

It is hard to overstate how much transit-oriented affordable housing can improve our state’s climate and housing crises. West Gateway Place residents taking transit could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 29,374 metric tons over the life of the project. That climate benefit is achieved by reducing driving by 1,280,000 miles per year. Not only is the project in an incredible location near transit, services and jobs, but Kailei’s kids use the bike lanes right outside their home, and she looks forward to joining them using the new bike share system with a pod located onsite.

Most importantly, West Gateway Place gave Kailei something priceless: a stable, safe, affordable place to call home. “Without this place, I’d probably still be homeless and have to give up my other two kids,” she said somberly. “We aren’t all going to have fantastic jobs that make us millions, but that doesn’t make us any less deserving of a nice home to put our kids in, to put ourselves in, to raise families in. We’re just as entitled.” She added, “It’s not about how much money you make, it’s about being a human being and needing housing.”

Kailei and her family are the perfect example of the power of affordable housing near transit. California needs to prioritize climate solutions that address our affordability crisis, and for that, AHSC has proven to be incredibly effective.

Not only will AHSC-funded affordable homes help cost-burdened renters and prevent displacement, they will reduce our state’s greenhouse gas emissions by millions of metric tons.  Additionally, eighty-two percent of the AHSC funding awarded so far will directly benefit disadvantaged communities, which are identified as having the highest pollution burdens in the state.

But the AHSC program is currently not funded beyond 2020. Considering the magnitude of the program’s benefits, housing and climate experts strongly recommend that California’s legislators commit to providing continuous and stable levels of funding to the AHSC program beyond 2020.

To learn more about the AHSC program, read our report.