VALLEJO – Kathy Hyder was the second person in line at Vallejo’s John F. Kennedy library last summer waiting to sign up for a new 74-unit permanent supportive housing project under construction on Sacramento Street. Hyder has been homeless in Vallejo since 2019 and recently suffered a stroke that paralyzed half of her body. Being homeless has been especially hard on her since then.
But months later, Hyder still doesn’t know if she has a spot in the new development. She said that she has been trying to update the information on her application, but it has been difficult for her to get in touch with the program representatives and to keep her phone charged because she is living in her car.
Demand for the project is huge. Applications opened last July, but the city closed the list after only three hours because 1,049 people signed up.
But months after it was scheduled to open, the project, called Blue Oak Landing — a collaboration between the city of Vallejo and nonprofit affordable housing developer Eden Housing — is still weeks or more away from opening and more than half of the units still do not have qualified applicants approved to move in.
Very few applicants have been able to pass the multi-agency screening process to qualify for one of the units at Blue Oak Landing. Neither the city of Vallejo nor Eden Housing have disclosed what the criteria is for admission.
The Vallejo Sun interviewed eight people experiencing homelessness for this story, all of whom said that some form of communication problem affected their access to services. Several people spoke of difficulty reaching a caseworker over the phone, while others said that agencies sent mail to an old address or that it was just difficult to keep a phone charged to receive a call back. Many people on the Blue Oak waitlist have been left wondering where they are in the approval process because they had trouble reaching program representatives to check the status of their application or update their application information.
Meanwhile, Blue Oak’s opening has been pushed back again. Originally scheduled to open in January, Eden estimates that residents won’t be able to move in until the end of May. Eden Housing spokesperson Birgit Johnston said that they are waiting on the city to complete inspections but a city spokesperson said that the city is waiting on Eden Housing to call for inspections.
The formal planning process for Blue Oak landing started over five years ago. Construction began in December of 2021 and was expected to take 12 months.
Its 74 rental units are reserved for families and individuals who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless and can meet income requirements of 20% to 40% of the area median income or $17,000 to $35,000 for a two-person household, according to the Eden Housing website.
The Vallejo Housing Authority (VHA) is expected to select applicants for 51 of those units. The remaining 23 units are reserved for the county-wide No Place Like Home program that provides housing support for people who need mental health services. The No Place Like Home program is operated by the nonprofit organization Caminar, which receives applicants through its Resource Connect Solano program.
The VHA draws names from the Blue Oak waitlist based on a ranking that prioritizes applicants who live or work in Vallejo and those whose homeless status has been certified by a referral agency. Then the names are then drawn in order of the time and date of the application.
After the applicants are screened, the VHA submits their qualified applications to Eden Housing to undergo another compliance process before an applicant is approved for the program.
Johnston told the Vallejo Sun that as of last week, 21 of the Vallejo Housing Authority applicants have been approved and 9 applicants have been approved through Resource Connect Solano. Johnston noted that because of the construction delays some of these applicants will have to be reapproved if 120 days have passed since their application information was updated.
Johnston said that applicants go through a compliance review and background check with its contracted property manager, the John Stewart Company, in order to qualify. But, she did not provide any details about the compliance review, nor did she indicate what type of criminal offenses would disqualify an applicant and referred questions to the city. A city spokesperson said that under U.S. Housing and Urban Development regulations a criminal offense would not necessarily be disqualifying but did not specify the criteria.
Meanwhile, the city of Vallejo denied a public records request for documents describing the tenant selection process, saying the documents were still in “draft form.”
The stringency of the background check is an important detail for Jane, a houseless mother of four with a felony conviction who preferred not to use her real name to protect the privacy of her children. She said that her criminal record has made it very difficult for her to find a rental, and was why she was denied Section 8 housing assistance.
“I don’t do anything that can get me in trouble anymore,” Jane said, while watching her son play in the back of her car. “If I had a place, my kids could get back to normal instead of this chaos all the time.”
Jane did not hear about Blue Oak Landing until after the wait list had closed, but she did apply with Caminar for mental health housing support. She could potentially qualify for a unit at Blue Oak Landing through No Place Like Home, but that would depend on what type of criminal offenses, if any, are allowed in the compliance process.
“I would take a studio if I could get a studio. Don’t tell me we can’t fit in a studio,” Jane said. “I would do bunk beds for the kids, and we would be happy if we could all be together.”
In response to detailed questions from the Vallejo Sun, Caminar spokesperson Kayla Armstrong pointed to the organization’s website which said, “Resource Connect Solano assesses needs and helps to match people in need of housing and related services with the most appropriate resources when there are available openings.”
One of the problems for families who apply to Blue Oak through the VHA or through Solano County’s No Place Like Home is that the supportive housing complex only has six two-bedroom units. In addition to those six units are 18 one-bedroom units and 51 studios, according to the architect’s website.
Vanessa Gomez signed up for the Blue Oak Landing waitlist in hopes of finding housing for herself and her four children. She currently lives with them in a trailer parked on a public street.
Gomez said hasn't received any communication since she signed up for the Blue Oak Landing waitlist. She was concerned that she might have made a mistake on the application, but nobody answered the phone when she called to make the correction.
Gomez said that she feels fortunate that she can pool resources with others who are camping on the same street, but she has been living in the trailer for two years and she wants a permanent home for her family.
Gomez has three children, ranging from a toddler to elementary school-age. But there may not be room for a family of her size in Blue Oak as it only has 6 units that could potentially squeeze in families the size of Gomez’s.
VHA supervisor Shenessa Williams told the city council during a March 28 meeting that the VHA allows “two people per living space which includes the living room,” meaning that studio apartments can house up to two people, a one-bedroom with a living room could house up to four, and a two-bedroom could potentially house a family as large as five or six people.
The lack of communication has led to fatigue and disappointment among those seeking services.
Resource Connect Solano’s monthly report for February showed 2,783 people have signed up for housing support services. In February of last year, there were 3,279 people, but most of that decline is due to people who were removed because Resource Connect was unable to contact them for over 90 days.
Since February 2020, Resource Connect added an average of 35 people per month county wide. In Vallejo, the agency added an average of 13 people per month to the system.
Over that same time period, an average of only five people per month exited the system because they found housing. A small number of others permanently exited the system because their family took them in or because they died.
Tiffany Martin moved to Vallejo in October for a job that did not work out and since then she has been living in hotels and her car with her 14-year-old son. She has been trying to access services in Solano County through Caminar, and she is working on getting her son into a local school. She said that she got a lot of referrals to different agencies but most of those were dead ends. Eventually, she was referred back to Caminar.
Martin described how she felt trying to access services: “People say ‘keep at them, keep at them,’ and ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease,’ but it gets tiring and depresses me even more."
“I don’t know how I am going to get this done,” she said. “I feel like I’m failing my son every day because sometimes we do have to sleep in the car.”
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Eden Housing
- Blue Oak Landing
- Kathy Hyder
- Birgit Johnston
- Vallejo Housing Authority
- No Place Like Home
- Resource Connect Solano
- Kayla Armstrong
- Vanessa Gomez
- Shenessa Williams
- Tiffany Martin
Ryan Geller writes about transitions in food, health, housing, environment, and agriculture. He covers City Hall for the Vallejo Sun.
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