Part 3 of a 4 part series on Magnolia Gardens, our transitional housing facility coming to Flushing, Queens.
Every parent wants the best for their children. We hope they will fulfill their dreams and aspirations and lead happy lives. But for many kids in our community, there’s a hard truth. Last year, 1,877 students in District 25, which includes Flushing, were in temporary housing, living doubled up with friends or relatives, in a shelter or on the street. This means their home life is unstable, they’re often preoccupied, anxious, wondering where the next meal will come from and unable to focus on their school work.
Picture this. A young immigrant family with a 7-year-old girl. She’s enrolled in elementary school at P.S. 20 in Flushing, in the first grade, an English language learner. The dad is a cook in a restaurant in Chinatown; the mom works in a garment factory. Together they barely earn enough to pay the rent in a basement apartment. The restaurant abruptly closes, finally succumbing to the economic pressures brought on by the pandemic. They fall behind in rent payments, eventually having no choice but to give up the apartment and move in temporarily with extended family members.
This type of situation is, unfortunately, common in Flushing, with thousands of Asian families living below the federal poverty line and the average unemployment period for Asians in New York City extending nearly a year (46 weeks for men, almost 34 weeks for women). A family, like the one described above, would be ideally suited for Magnolia Gardens, the innovative transitional housing facility coming soon to 133-04 39th Avenue.
While the facility will be open to all homeless and unstably housed families with a child under the age of 21, as required by law, the city seeks to keep families in their own communities, close to familiar schools and support networks. Since the example of a family noted above lives in Community District 7 and has a child in the local school district, the city would prioritize their placement at Magnolia Gardens.
When most people think of temporary housing for the unsheltered population, facilities for families with children generally do not come to mind. But on any given night in New York City, approximately 75% of the people housed in shelters are families with children. These families deserve safe and stable housing as they seek permanent solutions.
Magnolia Gardens is being built specifically for families with children, with 90 modern apartments equipped with private bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens. Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) and Urban Resource Institute (URI) are partnering to create the facility. URI, the service provider, has more than 40 years experience operating transitional housing, offering expert, comprehensive services to previously unsheltered families to help them build stable, sustainable futures. Most families stay in transitional housing for about one year before making the move to permanent affordable housing.
A family like the one we have described would, regardless of their immigration status, receive help in the appropriate language (including Mandarin and Cantonese) from AAFE or another Flushing-based nonprofit organization to navigate the application process. Once at Magnolia Gardens, they would have their own apartment , where they would live as a family, cook their meals, sleep, spend time together, and access an array of on-site services provided by URI for both the adults and children. Multilingual URI case workers would evaluate the family’s unique circumstances, identifying the types of services they require. Together, they would create individual living plans to build a brighter future. This is the successful model URI has delivered for families over decades of services in more than 20 sites across New York.
For the family in our example, there would be outreach to P.S. 20 to ensure that the child’s needs were being met and that lines of communication were open between the parents and school. She would benefit from on-site after school programming, recreational activities and educational tutoring and counseling, if needed.. For the parents, URI staff would offer programs to provide economic empowerment, including an assessment of their workforce readiness and skills, referrals to training programs, resume building, job search services and employment interview training.
Throughout their residency at Magnolia Gardens, the emphasis would be on creating a foundation for the family to transition to permanent affordable housing. This would be accomplished, in part, by stabilizing their finances and helping to improve the family’s earning potential. But identifying suitable housing options and preparing the family to apply for housing would be just as important. Once in a facility like Magnolia Gardens, families have access to housing vouchers (rental payment assistance) and to apartments reserved for formerly homeless community members. URI housing specialists would work with the family to make sure they have the necessary documentation, to conduct mock interviews to prepare for meetings with landlords and assist with transportation to prospective apartments.
URI has a successful track record of moving families from transitional housing to permanent housing (350 on average each year). The future impact at Magnolia Gardens is not difficult to see. The facility will serve about 90 families per year, or close to 3,000 families during the next 30 years. For our children in Flushing and surrounding communities, this crucial resource will make a profound difference, transforming many young lives, helping the next generation reach its full potential.