The Oaks: A Beacon of Hope for Seniors in Need of Affordable Housing

Her former apartment was hardly ideal. Alecia Sanchez, a 70-year-old widow with hardly any family, shared her living quarters with rats—big rats—who had easy access through holes in the walls.

This, however, is no longer the case. Sanchez is now safely ensconced as one of the first residents of The Oaks, the newest high-end apartment complex to grace the Dallas skyline. Located in the Oak Cliff neighborhood south of downtown, this senior living community has a unique feature. Affordability.

The Oaks represents the culmination of years of planning to bring new, quality affordable housing to Dallas’s senior citizens, both those who are income-restricted and those who are not.

The 260-unit complex, designed to create community for senior citizens, is a public private partnership between Volunteers of America National Services (VOANS), and DHA Housing Solutions for North Texas (DHA). The property is professionally managed by Volunteers of America Texas, a frontrunner of affordable housing in the Lone Star state. VOANS and DHA worked together to develop the property to benefit all levels of need, whether that would be a senior wanting to downsize or someone of limited income who may also receive additional assistance.

A Dallas native, Sanchez fits the latter category and her move to the senior community represents the accomplishment of what those who worked to make The Oaks a reality hoped for.

Sanchez was living in an apartment in a substandard building that had more problems than just rats. On one occasion, a neighbor came knocking to get her out of her apartment because of the smell of gas she had detected. Recently, the building came under new ownership and the rent was tripled, an amount far more than Sanchez could afford. Enter Lisa Marshall, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Fighting Homelessness. Marshall was working with four other residents of Sanchez’s apartment building to find new housing for them and knew she needed to help Sanchez as well. She found several housing options that she knew were temporary, but at least provided immediate relief. Then, at a meeting that included other nonprofits, she met Angela Morehead, VOA Texas Vice President of Housing Development. Morehead listened to Marshall’s story and proposed a solution—The Oaks was ready for business.

“The Oaks is available, and it is fabulous,” Marshall said. She moved Sanchez into The Oaks, using her charity’s own funds to supplement what Sanchez was able to pay. “She lives at the Taj Mahal,” Marshall said, describing The Oaks in comparison to Sanchez’s former living quarters. Sanchez herself is pleased not to have rats for company and speaks with relief of the safety she feels in her new location, along with the help she is provided. “I have my own patio,” she said, “and a washer and dryer—in my own apartment!”  She credits Marshall for being a “good person,” saying: “She’s not a fraud. She tells the truth that she’s going to help me and everything.”

From the VOA Texas perspective, Ms. Sanchez is one of thousands who need help as affordable housing is becoming harder and harder to find. The Oaks is a step forward to address that need.

“Connecting Ms. Sanchez to a safe, beautiful and affordable place to live is collaboration and partnership at its core,” Morehead said. “We know our work in developing affordable housing is vitally important to communities around the country; however, we don’t always get a chance to see the faces, hearts and spirits of the lives that are impacted.

“Our conversations around the affordable housing table can’t simply be conversations,” she added. “Actions must follow! We hope that Ms. Sanchez’s story inspires governmental and nonprofit agencies to work together in addressing the crisis of affordable housing in our communities.”

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