In a large market like Los Angeles, renters may have very diverse experiences that can lead to very different life outcomes. Finding long-term success can be significantly influenced by where a person grew up and the home he or she lived in as a child.

Statistics from The Opportunity Atlas, a collaborative effort between researchers at the Census Bureau and Harvard and Brown universities, show that in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, black men who grew up in a low-income household average only $6,200 in income in their 30s. Yet, not only is this demographic poor, but 44% of its members were incarcerated on a single day in 2010. Just next door in Los Angeles’s Compton neighborhood, however, the rate of incarceration was 6.2% on the same day in 2010.

The Opportunity Atlas depicts such statistics in maps that illustrate to policymakers and other stakeholders important social issues in a way that might help them rethink possible solutions for better outcomes. Such issues are clear to housing leaders who regularly make a difference in the lives of the disadvantaged—leaders like MFE’s 2018 Executive of the Year, Percy Vaz, founder and CEO of Agoura Hills, Calif.–based AMCAL.

Vaz has been developing properties in areas such as Watts for nearly 40 years, ever since he started AMCAL in 1978. And he admits that still, today, one of his biggest rewards is changing people's outcomes. Based on the more than 5,350 affordable units his company has produced to date, Vaz has changed a lot of outcomes and experienced a lot of rewards.

One of those rewards is the gratitude of Janett Flores, who moved into the 100-unit AMCAL property Meridian this year. She was a seven-year resident at an apartment complex in Los Angeles when she was forced out by a rent increase of $800 per month.

“I work hard—40 hours a week,” Flores says of her job as a cook. “I feel so much relief living at Meridian. So many people had to leave the state. It’s the only way to get by, because Los Angeles is so expensive, but I’ve lived here all my life.”

Stories like Flores's have helped affordable housing provider AMCAL grow from building locally in California to setting up shop farther east, in Texas, in the past few years, while also expanding its product types to include student housing and market-rate developments.

Here, in this short video, Vaz shares the two inflection points that got him on the path to affordability.

Not only is Vaz providing more affordable housing for thousands of people who face life-challenging situations, but he's also partnered with nonprofit LifeSTEPS, which works with AMCAL residents upon move-in to help steer them toward a sustainable, successful life track. The partnership between the two entities, HOPEHousing Opportunities and Personal Empowerment, offers educational programs and scholarships, grants and other funding, along with more-advanced, hands-on intervention services.

Bernardo, pictured right, says he couldn't have graduated without the help of AMCAL partner program HOPE, which fosters long-term success among the developer's residents.
AMCAL Bernardo, pictured right, says he couldn't have graduated without the help of AMCAL partner program HOPE, which fosters long-term success among the developer's residents.

One of AMCAL’s residents, Bernardo, is in the LifeSTEPS program because, while working and going to school, he suffered a back injury a year before graduation. He was no longer able to keep up with his workload or his class schedule, so he applied to the HOPE program. He healed, graduated, and is now a full-time nurse.

"This scholarship opportunity came at the perfect time,” Bernardo told LifeSTEPS. “I was too injured to work and worried about getting another big loan. The award was a huge relief to me and my family. Thank you for everything you've done for us.”

With his determination and the help of AMCAL and LifeSTEPS, Bernardo is breaking the cycle of poverty for him and his family.

Another, younger resident shared this letter:

Dear Friend,

I live in the Villas [del Lago] apartment in Los Angeles. I love it here because I have my own room. I have a playground where me and my friends [can] play. But the thing I [most] love is the program LifeSTEPS. Where I used to live it was so bad. There, almost every week there would be a shooting, somebody would die. Police would come. I hated it living there. But when my family heard about this apartment, we went to get an application. They kept calling us for stuff. It was worth [it], because now look where I’m living. I feel like a princess in a palace.

A grateful resident gives thanks to AMCAL and the LifeSTEPS program.
AMCAL A grateful resident gives thanks to AMCAL and the LifeSTEPS program.

In a time when affordable housing solutions are in low supply, Vaz and AMCAL send a very important message: It isn’t all about the profit. The reward of developing housing can be very powerful—changing lives and creating better futures.

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