Affordable green housing for foster youth

Leave it to Oakland—the city that brought us the first green homeless shelter—to push the envelope on affordable green housing. This week, the city will welcome a new green building, this one aimed not just at folks who need shelter; this is green housing specifically for foster youth.

Madison Street Apartments holds 79 units of affordable housing, from studios to three-bedrooms, twenty of which are held for a program called First Place for Youth. “Aged-out” foster youth—those who are getting too old for foster care but aren’t quite ready for independent living—go through an economic literacy course (with valuable tidbits on how to handle money) and receive a subsidy to pay for their apartments, just a block from the lovely Lake Merritt district. Services are included—case workers and job training and such—in order to curb the common outcome: Foster kids are three times more likely to end up homeless without such help.

In fact, that’s only one of many dismal statistics: less than half of foster kids graduate from high school; less than one-eighth graduate from college; two-thirds haven’t held a job for a full year; a quarter of the males have had a stint in jail; and four in 10 endure an unplanned pregnancy. But all of these things can be mitigated by home sweet home, experts say.

First Place for Youth is mixed-use and transit-oriented—a big part of what makes it green because residents will be able to take BART (the Bay Area’s subway system, although it’s not the most affordable public transit the country’s got) and not have to spring for a car. Food, toiletries, and other necessities can be purchased right in the building.

On the roof, photovoltaic panels generate solar energy, and a bunch of other nifty high-tech gadgets add to the green portfolio: integrated water/heating system, custom “rain screen” facing, and a “central core seismic structural system”—in other words, earthquake-proof. 

Yes, true, that stuff makes the building more expensive to build, but the developers are committed to creating permanently affordable housing, with rents from $350 to $1,200 per month. Enough solar panels on top, and they ought to have permanently affordable utility bills, to boot.