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News and Stories

New Bronx Housing Development Offers Fresh Start to Young Adults Exiting Foster Care

New York Daily News

Richard Harbus

BRONX, NY January 19, 2012 -- Steven Nunez never had a father, lost his mother when he was 10 years old and spent seven years in foster care. When he aged out of the New York City foster care system, he had nowhere to go, so he started sleeping on couches and the subway.

But today the slim, upbeat 28-year-old college student and aspiring restaurateur boasts a shiny studio apartment with a kitchen that faces the rising sun and Tremont Park in the Bronx.

Nunez is one of 67 tenants at Vicinitas Hall, a brand new supportive housing development in East Tremont for low-income young adults and those who have aged out of foster care.

"Coming from where I come from, with no family and no one to turn to, I needed hope and a fresh start," said Nunez, smiling behind thick black spectacles with white polka dots. "Waking up here every day is like the rainbow after a thunderstorm."

Built on the site of a parking lot for $16 million - with $7 million in federal funds issued by the city in addition to stimulus money, state housing cash and tax credits - Vicinitas Hall is a handsome, seven-story building with elegant lighting, and marble tiles.

New Yorkers age out of foster care abruptly at 21, when the city stops paying foster parents and group homes. Within a year, one in 10 become homeless, and within three years, one in five do, said Ray Hodges, deputy director of special needs housing for the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

"To be out on your own is tough," said Nunez, who recently earned a hospitality management degree from Borough of Manhattan community College. "Some of my friends turned to drug addiction and prostitution to get by."

With 41 young adults from the foster care system, Vicinitas Hall is the largest housing development of its kind in New York and one of the largest in the country. The building's other 21 tenants are working young adults from the neighborhood who earn under $33,000 a year, and more than 30% of the tenants are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

It accounts for nearly half of 150 units in buildings across the city that offer tenants access to support services through a Health Department pilot program expected to expand soon.

The Lantern Group, a Manhattan-based nonprofit, operates Vicinitas Hall, providing caseworkers and employment aides on-site to help tenants find jobs and secure government benefits.

"When young adults age out of foster care, they often don't have the life skills they need," said Alissa Kampner Rudin, Lantern Group chief operating officer. "We give them a safe haven here."

Murphy said the supportive housing model saves taxpayers money because it costs much more to keep young adults in homeless shelters.