Foundation Communities brings awareness and solutions to Austin’s affordable housing crisis. Since opening its doors in 1990, the local nonprofit has helped over 6,000 families and individuals find a home and a better quality of life within its 23 affordable housing communities. Over the past 25 years, Executive Director, Walter Moreau has secured subsidy financing of more than $200 million to create more than 3,500 units of service-enriched, nonprofit-owned affordable housing.
Listen in as Yvette Boatwright, Co-owner of Realty Austin and Foundation Communities Board member discusses with Walter Moreau his passion for affordable housing in Austin and how we can come together to break the stigmas around affordable housing and uplift our community.
Q&A With Walter Moreau
Q. Can you give us some background on the Foundation Communities organization, your mission, and the people you serve
A. We have seven thousand residents here in Austin who struggle to make ends meet and have tight budgets. Most of them are working, but it’s gotten so expensive. Rents are high. Foundation Communities provides affordable housing at twenty-seven communities all over town. Housing is typically our two-bedroom units, and rents are in the eight hundred dollar ballpark, almost half of what rents are. Our model is not just housing but also services. We focus a lot on education.
We run big learning centers on-site where we have about a thousand kids a day in an after-school program, with many experts around right now. We do many health programs from fitness classes, a round of flu shots to ensure that everybody got that. We also do a lot of financial programs to help people on a tight budget. So we do income taxes for free. We just started the health insurance enrollment season, November and December, where we’ll be assisting residents through the process.
I’m proud to say we’re just like Realty Austin; we’re homegrown. We started here a little over thirty years ago by a group of college students. They were involved in co-op housing, and they just had this very basic vision that as Austin grew, there ought to be beautiful, affordable housing for everybody. It started with that, and here we are today with twenty-seven communities and seven thousand residents.
Q. If you drive by one of your communities, you may not realize it’s affordable housing. How has Foundation Communities helped to change the perception of affordable housing?
A. One of my passions is wanting our affordable housing to be beautiful and a community where people are proud of their lives. When I talk about affordable housing, especially to neighborhood groups, just those two words, affordable housing, can scare people. They visual this image of old HUD projects. I know that many people have driven by Cardinal Point in the Four Points neighborhood or Bluebonnet Studios on South Lamar or Capitol Studios downtown or Homestead down south on Slaughter Lane, not knowing it was an affordable housing complex. They look very high design and well-mannered. That’s what we want to maintain, and we’ve done that for the last 30 years.
I think it’s gotten better over time. We used to have some pretty fierce neighborhood battles, what we call NIMBY “not in my backyard,” and we’ve overcome that. We have to change people’s perceptions that affordable housing would be ugly or not safe.
I think we’ve also overcome somewhat this idea that that’s going to be those people, whatever they mean by that because you can’t live in Austin and not know somebody that needs a little help. We rely on hard-working people in our retail and service economy to mow lawns, to cut your hair, watch kids, and they’ve got to live somewhere. Often it’s somebody, you know from church or school or somebody in your own family.
Q. In what ways has the community responded to help Foundation Communities during the pandemic?
A. I’ve been amazed at how generous people have been. The real emergency in March and April when things shut down was people lost their jobs or lost hours, especially our residents in service and retail restaurant kind of work. We put out an appeal for an emergency fund to help cover rent and pay for food. All of our food pantries doubled, and people really responded. So we’ve raised over the year, not quite a million dollars. We spent a lot more than half of that on rent and more on food and supplies.
I think we have enough money left to help us get through the year. Slowly, people have been able to get back to work, so the need for that rental help has dwindled a little bit each month. That’s just one of the real tangible ways people have helped.
One other thing we did, we have six communities that are designed for individuals that have been homeless or at high risk, and they’re isolated. These are a lot of medically vulnerable folks. We couldn’t do the regular Supper Clubs and programs that get people out of their apartment. We did care calls and had one hundred volunteers that we were able to match up with residents, sometimes daily, sometimes it’s weekly, but they check in with the residents to become a friend and see how things are going. And we’ve heard so many good stories. It’s been a boost to help people get through the year.
Q. How can the community get involved in supporting Foundation Communities right now?
A. Our number one appeal right now is for the Holiday Assistance Program. We usually have about four hundred families, and the signups may increase. We match them up with folks to help with mostly presents under the tree. Of course, this year, we’re not meeting the families trying to keep a social distance. Some more tangible, alternative ways people can get involved and give, but that’s a significant need through the holiday season. The Realty Austin team makes it super easy to get involved.
Q. What’s the most rewarding part of working at Foundation Communities?
A. It’s meeting our residents and hearing their success and their resiliency to get through this year. We are just opening our seventh supportive housing community, Water Letairis, up by the domain, beautiful location. I spend four or five years working on a project, and we finally open the doors, and that is the most joyful thing. Our first residents move in probably the second week of December. I get to meet them and hear their stories and their experience. That’s really great.
I will say I love construction. I was on the job site today, and they were putting in the trees and the landscaping and doing the final inspections and getting ready for the first residents. I can get excited about that. But the people side of it’s the best! I can understand that the properties are beautiful, but the residents are even more so, especially when they share their hope and resilience stories.
WE’RE FOR HERE
Realty Austin is committed to supporting affordable housing in Austin through Foundation Communities. Throughout the summer, Realty Austin hosts Supper Clubs at various communities where agents and staff volunteer to serve Rudy’s BBQ for the residents. For the annual fundraiser, Realty Austin serves as the match fund sponsor, where donors double their impact by taking advantage of Realty Austin’s $75K Match Fund gift at the annual Welcome Home luncheon held on October 20, 2020. This year, Realty Austin’s $75k match fund inspired 67 new Home Builders at the virtual luncheon event!
If you are looking for ways to give back this holiday season, start with the Foundation Communities Holiday Assistance Program. Through this program, you can sponsor a Foundation Communities family, by making a holiday donation. Let’s come together this year to help make the holidays brighter for Foundation Communities families!
If Foundation Communities has helped you or someone you know, please share your story with us in the comments section below!