With Vouchers Rescinded, Former Foster Care Youth in Houston Stuck in Limbo
Chastity Goodin, in the courtyard of the Mission of Yahweh shelter.
On the morning Chastity Goodin was scheduled to receive her housing voucher, she was already thinking it might be rescinded.
She caught the news before she took a one-hour bus ride from a homeless shelter to the Houston Housing Authority, and as she sat in the waiting room for 15 minutes, the news was all she could think of: Congress was slashing millions in funding to the housing budget, and hundreds of Houston families would lose their vouchers as a result.
Was hers one of them?
"I was a little scared, thinking I wouldn't get it — then I would get happy and tell myself, okay, I probably will," Goodin said. "But when [the HHA representative] came downstairs, how she looked, I knew it was over with."
Goodin, the 21-year-old mother of an 11-month-old baby, is among more than 900 Houston families who were on track to receive a housing voucher, only for it to be stripped away without warning, thanks to the sweeping federal budget cuts. She's also one of nine former foster-care youth who recently aged out of the state's foster-care system and were banking on this voucher for stability. For Goodin and others like her, it would have marked the first time in years she would have a home she could call her own, free from constant uprooting, moving from place to place.
She lived in five different foster-care placements from ages 13 to 18, after schoolteachers noticed marks on her body caused by a whupping from her mother. She aged out and went to live with relatives and then with a person who domestically abused her. She left him and took her two-and-a-half-month-old baby to the Star of Hope homeless shelter, and now has moved to Mission of Yahweh. After learning that she was eligible for the HHA's Transition-Age Youth housing voucher program, Goodin desired only one thing: permanence.
"Somewhere where I wouldn't have to depend on anyone," she said. "I can work late; I can come home freely. That housing voucher would have helped me to where I could be my own adult; I could grow up on my own without needing anyone. That's what I've done all my life, is having to depend on someone else."
The HHA took on the Transition Age Youth program in 2015 specifically to address the limbo that former foster-care kids find themselves in once they turn 18, often with few living arrangements available. It's a referral-based program, meaning the young adults can bypass the lengthy housing voucher waiting list as long as they fulfill various requirements, such as taking a life skills course. With about 55 youth benefiting from the program since 2015, HHA Vice President Mark Thiele said it takes up only a sliver of the budget — but since the federal government ordered a freeze on all vouchers except those for veterans, exceptions could not be made for the youth program. Overall, HHA is facing a projected $9 million budget shortfall.
Of the 900 vouchers rescinded total, Thiele said, nine vouchers were rescinded from TAY participants. Anyone who had not fully made it through the voucher process — that is, anyone whose apartment inspection was not completed — was out of luck.
"Essentially, we stopped processing on anyone who hadn't had a passed [apartment] inspection as of the 26th of April. So for this universe of folks in process for the TAY program, we halted their process too," Thiele said. "Which obviously was devastating for all of the families, and hard on staff. We're housers; we're here to house folks, and not to say we can't do this. That said, once there is sufficient funding, we intend to finish the job we started in terms of housing the folks returned to the wait list."
It is a promise that could take months or, more likely, years to fulfill.
The sudden change has been deeply destabilizing for those counting on the help. Twenty-one-year-old Shamiya Green said her anxiety had been so high that she had to go to a psychiatric facility for treatment for a week. After coming from the Covenant of Hope shelter, Green has been living at a foster-care transitional facility with others between the ages of 18 and 21. Once she turns 22, Green, who has lived in six different placements since she was 16, said she does not yet have a plan B. The voucher, she said, was supposed to be it.
"I try to prepare for the worst: getting kicked out and not having a place to go," she said. "It stresses me out, so I try not to think about it."
Green said she did not even find out directly from HHA that she had lost the voucher, but only found out from a friend and called the Hay Center, which assists transitioning foster-care youth, to confirm it was true. Another young woman the Houston Press spoke with, named Adrian, said she found out only from watching the news and confirmed through the Hay Center as well. Neither received direct notification from HHA, they said. HHA did not send a letter to Green's attorneys from Disability Rights Texas and Lone Star Legal Aid until May 24, more than a month after the HHA learned of the funding shortfall and several days after Green's attorneys inquired about her records.
"She never even had an opportunity from the start to find an apartment and pass inspection," said Chris McGreal, an attorney with Disability Rights Texas who is assisting several former foster-care young women with finding new housing or getting their vouchers back. "What's really troubling is that the kids were under this clock to get a place and pass an inspection that they didn't even know about. Then HUD dropped this on HHA, and it was all under some kind of time clock that just, poof, appeared on April 21. Ms. Green never even had the opportunity. It was almost like she was done from the start."
Both Green and Goodin have limited time at their current facilities. While Green has the remainder of the year until her 22nd birthday, Goodin has only until the end of August to stay at the Mission of Yahweh. She says she has saved every penny from her job at Taco Cabana, making $9 an hour. Finding an apartment she can afford has been difficult, she said, and so far the only real opening is at another extended-stay shelter up the road — an option she can't bring herself to consider.
"We've been living in shelters since my daughter was two and a half months old," she said. "She's spent her whole life in shelters. This is not the life I wanted for my daughter."
Correction, June 16: This story previously stated that nine of 55 TAY vouchers were rescinded. More accurately, since 2015, 55 youth have benefited TAY, which does not include the nine vouchers rescinded this year.
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