Hear from three residents who’ve recently secured affordable places to live.

‘Call from a property manager’

Brenetta-Fisher headshot square

Brenetta Fisher, 72, had been living with her daughter in East Oakland for several years when she finally got the call from a property manager at the newly opened Jordan Court apartments in North Berkeley. She had put her name on a waitlist for the senior housing property with low expectations weeks prior, but was surprised to hear that she would be the first person to move into the building.

Fisher’s now living out her retirement in her own studio apartment. She said there was no trick to it, she’d put her name on dozens of waitlists before but her application and eligibility made her the right fit for Jordan Court. It was only a matter of weeks between applying to Jordan Court and getting a key to her home, which isn’t a common experience for most people.

Fisher lives on her retirement income that she uses to pay subsidized rent at the property, which also has 24 tenants with Section 8 vouchers from the Berkeley Housing Authority. The last time she was able to live in Berkeley was over 15 years ago, when the home she rented for many years was sold. She recently recovered from cancer, and sees it as a blessing that she was able to get her own apartment.

Through a social worker

Leila headshot square

Leila M. recently moved into her own one-bedroom apartment in Walnut Creek, with access to a pool and a gym. But it was a long, and often difficult, path to her new place, and along the way she experienced quite a few of the types of affordable housing that Alameda County has to offer.

Leila moved to Oakland with her family five years ago from Ventura County. She found it challenging to coexist happily with her parents and siblings. “Living in nuclear families, or traditional housing, is not always beneficial for our mental health,” said Leila, who also found the affordable housing application process frustrating. As a person of Middle Eastern descent, she didn’t feel represented by the racial categories offered on the paperwork, and she found the eligibility requirements limiting.

When she ended up in a hospital with mental health challenges, she pleaded with staff there to help her find a supportive living environment. That’s how she ended up at several transitional housing sites run by Bay Area Community Services (BACS), including Amber House in Oakland and Woodroe Place in Hayward, which are considered crisis treatment programs, and the Henry Robinson in Oakland.

A BACS social worker soon offered Leila a spot in a single-family house in East Oakland. There, she had three housemates she hadn’t met before. They were all part of a program called Project Reclamation, where low-income residents get private rooms in a shared house. This allows them to live independently while accessing social services.

Leila paid a small amount of the rent, and the rest was covered. There, she finally got a taste of a living environment that worked for her. Still, it was an adjustment to be responsible for her belongings and share a bathroom with others.

While living there, Leila got good news: she would receive an emergency housing voucher for a private apartment. It felt like a “miracle of miracles,” she said, but it was challenging to find a landlord who’d accept her voucher. Often apartment listings were misleading and she’d get denied. Ultimately she went through a process called porting out, using the Oakland voucher to get a great place in Contra Costa County.

Her advice to voucher-holders seeking housing: contact landlords and agencies often. “Make sure you write in bold letters: ‘time sensitive.’ If you call, follow up with an email,” she said.

Housing in a renovated church co-op

Betty Gray headshot square

Betty Gray, owner of Alice’s Relaxing Gift and Bath in Berkeley, suffered an injury early in 2022 at her apartment that left her unable to leave her home. She looked for an accessible apartment for months, and finally got lucky at the newly refurbished McGee Avenue Baptist Church property, a Stuart Street Co-op that opened in mid-September.

The Bay Area Community Land Trust told her she was 13th on the waitlist for the eight-unit property — but not to lose hope because the people ahead of her might not qualify or might choose housing elsewhere. She got the spot, a spacious one-bedroom apartment on Stuart Street that will be part of a semi-cooperative housing development. There will be a shared electric car for use among the tenants, as well as other amenities. It’s the first project completed under the city’s Small Sites program, which funds renovation and construction to preserve affordable units in the city.

Gray’s daughter walked her to the new home from her old apartment one afternoon in September. Gray admired the butterflies in her new community, grateful to be part of a neighborhood again. She’s living in a spacious, ground-floor apartment that’s ADA accessible, and plans to participate in co-op beautification efforts at the new garden space and other joint activities.