Jolene’s First Cousin: Innovative SROs, one year later
ORIGINS of JOLENE’S FIRST COUSIN
Two years ago, JOIN was approached by Guerrilla Development with a bold idea: reimagine affordable housing in a way that supports residents through community. The single greatest obstacle JOIN faces in supporting sustainable transitions off the street is access to housing that is actually affordable for the income our folks are likely to have– not based on a percentage of median statistics, but what we know the reality of the financial situation for many individuals. With this opportunity, we would be able to control the rents to offer truly affordable housing, and put our values into the property management practices. Guerrilla Development built a crowdfunded mixed development named Jolene’s First Cousin, which includes businesses, market-rate apartments, and eleven low-cost single room occupancy units (SROs) to help address Portland’s homeless crisis.
JOIN’s Landlord Recruitment and Retention (LRRP) Team was involved from the design stage of the process, providing input on furnishings, resident selection, and more. The building design intended to allow as many residents as possible to have space inside the building and enjoy the large common areas together. The downstairs is an open concept to build a sense of community. The LRRP team felt an immense amount of pride around JFC’s opening, since the team shopped for and chose all of the furnishings (including kitchenware, decorations, etc.) and installed and moved everything in with limited volunteer support. In December 2019, the first residents moved into the building!
Residents have a 150 square foot private room and shared bathrooms, kitchen, and common areas. The rent also includes wi-fi, access to a shared computer station, an outdoor courtyard with bbq, and access to a community library with books, games, and DVDs for everyone’s use. The rooms are rented fully furnished, including linens and the kitchen, and common areas are fully stocked. There are also several sets of washers and dryers free for resident’s use. Each resident adheres to community guidelines and weekly chores to help keep the common spaces clean and a sense of community intact. LRRP drops off supplies each week, including cleaning products, paper products, and basic hygiene items (including COVID PPE).
JOIN values creativity in responding to challenges, and our work at Jolene’s First Cousin is a prime example. We are grateful to Guerrilla Development for partnering with us on this innovative initiative and for the exceptional work of the LRRP team to realize this vision and stay committed to its success.
PROPERTY MANAGEMENT WITH JOIN VALUES
Taking on the role of a landlord was a new challenge for JOIN. The responsibilities of property management would fall to JOIN’s Landlord Recruitment and Retention (LRRP) Team, bringing skills and experience in private market rental management as well as case management and social services. Kayleigh Thornton, LRRP Program Coordinator, shared some thoughts about how she and her team approach property management at Jolene’s First Cousin (JFC):
“Determining who would move-in is an essential part of the success. We created a process to fairly assess each applicant; this included a review with our equity lens and a review with a panel of people who work at JOIN. JOIN performs no background checks to live in these units and requires no security deposits. Our team met with each applicant’s case manager to understand the applicant and their housing needs. Our team also explained to each applicant that there are Community Guidelines that all residents must agree to. Besides JOIN-referred residents, we also partnered with Street Roots for access to 2 of the SRO’s at JFC. These residents from Street Roots now have a JOIN retention worker.
“Property management for JFC was an extremely intentional process designed to provide resident-centered services that foster community and with the intention of helping residents to be successful in their housing. We created community guidelines and weekly chores with the intention of building an environment where folks felt a part of their community and could build relationships with each other and our team. We offer weekly community meetings where residents can voice their concerns. They all have access to our team’s 24/7 hotline where they can contact us. If a resident violates a community guideline, we can mediate the concern directly with the resident(s) involved without necessarily having to resort to a formal notice, or even if a notice is served, have the ability to explain it fully with the resident and their caseworker. Besides these things, we drop off supplies weekly like paper products, cleaning supplies, and laundry soap. The units and common areas were fully furnished. The thought process behind this is if people have a living environment that is comfortable and functional, they will be excited to continue taking care of, including maintaining the space. If people don’t have to worry about money for laundry soap or toilet paper, they can focus on other things they need to enrich their lives and happy people create happy communities!
“The community has come together rather organically around food sharing, meal cooking, daily cleaning, and supportive friendship. However, this is not always the case all the time. Residents call our 24-hour hotline to report concerns and issues that arise, both interpersonal and building-related. Our team responds within 24 hours and sooner depending on the issue; this protocol has helped maintain balance in the community. In addition to conflict mediation and community meetings, we offer other fun things like pizza parties and other events to build community and help the residents get to know us better. Since our team is a pretty frequent presence at the building, residents feel comfortable sharing their concerns with us, which helps to maintain open communication. It has been immensely rewarding to watch this group of strangers come together to share holiday meals, laugh and joke around the tv and enjoy the bbq in the courtyard.”
LIVING AT JOLENE’S FIRST COUSIN
When Kim became homeless, she didn’t know what to do. She slept in bus stops and did anything she could to get by. While visiting JOIN’s Dayspace one day, she met Perlia, a JOIN Outreach Worker, who started helping her find a place to live. Perlia put her on the waitlist for JFC, and they took a tour and talked about the unique community-living aspects of the building.
Living on a fixed income, it was a challenge to find a place that she could afford. Based on the 2019 State of Housing report from PHB, there are no neighborhoods considered “affordable” to the thousands of Portland residents living on social security income. Jolene’s First Cousin is uniquely positioned to provide an affordable option that doesn’t rely on subsidies or vouchers. Kim moved into JFC in early 2020.
JFC offers a lot of benefits to people, but it’s not without drawbacks and challenges. Kim likes looking out her window and loves her comfortable bed. The washing machine is free to use, and having access to a nice kitchen is a perk. Like most community living situations, the residents at JFC have conflicts over chores getting done. It’s also been a challenge living in a community setting during the pandemic. While she’s grateful for her own space and a roof over her head, the added anxiety about her community mates having diligent practices around pandemic safety is a frustration. “At the end of the day, we have to respect each other.” JOIN has added twice-a-week disinfecting services to the building, as well as providing PPE for residents.
Kim said she’s learned a lot about empathy and asking for help since moving into JFC. When she first moved in, she butted heads with her neighbor frequently– but he’s since become one of her closest friends. Recently, this friend disappeared for a few days. “It just reminded me that I can’t know what another person is going through, and I have to be empathetic to their situation.” Throughout her time living at JFC, she was surprised to find herself more caring for others.