San Francisco native Alyssa P. proudly tells of the fact that she grew up in the Mission, ZIP code 94110 — the third generation of her family to do so. Some relatives were fishermen at the Wharf way back when, all coming home to the Mission each night.
Unfortunately, as a young adult, Alyssa found that not having stable housing is disruptive to every facet of your life. After starting to raise identical twins on her own at age 23, housing translated to a far-less-than-ideal living situation. Home was a room in a garage, with neither heat, a washer/dryer nor a kitchen. That communal kitchen was shared with family members who facing challenges, making their behavior erratic and compelling Alyssa to rarely venture into the main part of the house. There were no home-cooked meals with a family gathering to discuss their day around the table — it was just quick, cheap meals from small eateries.
Alyssa worried at the model her little ones were seeing each day. She needed to be proactive.
So in 2017, the then 28-year-old spoke to a Family Success Coach based at her kids’ school, Cesar Chavez Elementary, which is part of the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) education initiative. MPN is a collaborative of 20+ partners, for which MEDA is the lead agency. Family Success Coaches are based at schools and early learning centers, acting as a connector to resources available to strengthen families. When Alyssa told her story to the coach, they pointed her a few blocks away to MEDA.
The first step was to get finances in order, so Alyssa was paired with then Financial Capabilities Coach Lupe Mercado. The big goal was to pay off student loan debt. While Alyssa had studied hard and landed a decent job working as an operating-room technician, the interest on the loan was building up. After some time — and with much diligence — that issue was successfully resolved.
When Mercado internally transferred positions, becoming a Housing Opportunities Coach at MEDA, Alyssa came along. “We continued bettering Alyssa’s finances, aiming to get her what we define at MEDA as ‘rental ready,’ meaning paying down debt and bringing up your credit score. Once that occurred, it was time to start applying to City lotteries for below-market-rate (BMR) apartments in San Francisco,” explains Mercado of the plan.
Apply they did. To about 30 lotteries over a two-year span. Alyssa had become hyperfocused, eschewing spending time with friends so that she could instead garner all the knowledge she could about affordable housing.
Despite the setbacks of failing to win the lottery, Alyssa remained determined, knowing it usually takes time.
Says Alyssa, “Each night, my girls and I said affirmations and prayed that we would find a new home. I told them to envision us in a better place. To remain hopeful.”
The great news is that Alyssa’s determination paid off, with her winning the lottery for a one-bedroom apartment at a MEDA Small Sites Program property at 17th and Mission, in the heart of the neighborhood and near where she spent her younger days. The City’s Small Sites Program allows nonprofits to purchase four- to 25-unit buildings with tenants vulnerable to no-fault evictions. To date, MEDA’s Small Sites Program portfolio includes 22 such properties, comprising 154 residential apartments and 23 commercial spaces. The 17th Street property had an opening come up organically, hence the lottery for that BMR unit.
There was one more issue to solve: the need of assistance with move-in monies and a security deposit. So Mercado reached out to Catholic Charities, which in a quick turnaround time assisted the family.
There were tears of joy for the close-knit family of three when they moved into their new home on April 5. They had never before been able to call a home their own. The apartment’s high ceilings and old-time charm remind Alyssa of the Mission flat where she lived as a little girl.
Alyssa now finds peace as she lovingly prepares meals for her family in her light-filled, updated kitchen. The twins have quiet places to study, so Alyssa knows they will now become all-the-more successful at school.
Yet Alyssa’s dreams have not all been realized.
“I now have a one-bedroom, and I am working toward renting a two-bedroom. Ultimately, I want to buy a three-bedroom BMR condo in MEDA’s 18th and Mission property they will be soon building. I feel like it’s fate — my twins have been part of Dance Mission Theater since they were two-year-olds, with me volunteering there, and I know that arts organization will have a new home at 18th and Mission, too. I’m going to make this happen,” exclaims a hopeful Alyssa, who recently took MEDA’s First-Time Homebuyers workshop to ascertain how to make that dream a reality.
It doesn’t stop there. Alyssa is also looking to start her own small business offering fitness classes, so she has been taking the weekly workshops — led by Business Development and Lending Liaison Luis Ramos — where everything from creating a marketing plan to commercial-lease negotiation is taught.
Concludes Alyssa, “My girls mean everything to me, making me determined to create a better life for us, despite the challenges. I want to thank Lupe and everyone at MEDA for offering me the tools to succeed. I know now that my twins will definitely grow up to be the best they can be.”