When you're leaving care, one of the biggest things to plan for is housing. You may be asking yourself questions like, "Where will I live?" and "How will I afford my rent?" "Will I rent a whole apartment or just a room?" Will I move back home with my family?"
Before choosing housing, here are some key questions to answer:
Who do you want to live with? Do you want to live alone; with a partner, family, kin, or siblings; with friends as roommates? Will you feel isolated if you live on your own? Is being able to have a pet important to you?
- Age and Gender
Would you prefer to live in a community of young adults? For example, a young adult transitional living complex or mixed-age environment? How would you do in a subsidized high-rise apartment building with residents who are primarily senior citizens? If you are going to live in a dorm, would you prefer it to be same-sex or co-ed?
- Education and Career Goals
Do you have education or career plans that affect your choices? If you're planning to attend college, will living in a dorm work well for you? If you joining the military, will you be able to live in military housing? Do you have any special needs like daytime quiet due to work on a night shift?
- Specialized Housing
Would you be eligible for and benefit from housing with specialized services? Housing programs for felons, substance abusers, those with mental health issues or other disabilities, or young parents?
- Cultural and Socioeconomic Factors
Do you want to live among others with similar ethnicity, cultural backgrounds or sexual orientation? Would you lie, for example, to return to a tribal reservation or to live in an ethnic or gay-friendly community?
- Resources to Pay for Housing
What eligibility do you have for various forms of assistance? Do you have a source of income? Do you have resources to pay for rent, electricity, gas, phone and internet services, as well as food and clothes? Do you have money for emergencies?
Do you intend to live in the same general area you are currently living, or are you planning to leave - say to the "big city"? Do you have concerns about safety, proximity to school, work, child care, etc.?
Do you have a way to get from housing to school, work, and so on? Can you afford the transportation you need? Do you need a parking space?
After answering these questions, you should be able to develop a checklist that clearly identifies what you are looking for and what you can afford. Now you are ready to make your housing plan!
Saving money and figuring out where you want to live can be a long, hard process. It is important to start early!
Like any good plan, your housing plan should include specific dates or date ranges for every action. Make sure your plan includes the following:
- A budget for all housing options you are considering - including both initial move-in and ongoing living expenses of each.
- All housing-related financial resources that you can tap into. The plan should include the steps for researching all application processes and applying for funds. (Watching for due dates is particularly critical here.)
- If you plan to live in housing associated with training or college (such as a dorm), the plan must consider where you will live before the program begins and during vacations.
- A list of all items you will need for your new housing (from a bed to cleaning supplies), costs, and a plan for how you will get everything together and by when.
- A plan for how you will move to the new housing and get your possessions there. Also, determine how much your moving-related expenses will be.
- Plans for contingencies and follow-up. What will you do, for example, if you don't get space in the dorm, or are found to be ineligible for Chafee support for move-in costs? What if you become homeless for some reason after you've moved in.
You may have lived in a group apartment or foster care apartments for so long and really want to live in an apartment of your own. There are many options to think about when you are considering moving into an apartment. Some options may be better and cheaper. These include:
- Sharing an Apartment with a Friend
If you don't know anyone interested in sharing an apartment, you can go to a roommate service, which will charge a fee for finding you a roommate, or you can look at the apartment listings on online services. Use extreme caution when considering rooming with someone you don't know well. Invite a trusted friend or caretaker to interview the person with you. Talk about your expectations and learn what they expect from you as well before you commit to moving in together.
- Single Room Occupancy (SRO)
Single Room Occupancy are buildings or hotels where you can rent a single room. Landlords usually try to rent out these rooms on a daily basis at a high daily rent, but in some cities there is a way to become a "rent stabilized" tenant in an SRO at a reasonable weekly rate.
- College Dorm/Off- or On-Campus Housing
If you go away to college, you can live in a dorm or in an off-campus apartment. Also, many colleges have bulletin boards or housing offices that list apartments for rent or people looking for roommates.
- A Furnished Room
Renting a furnished room is inexpensive, requires very little start-up money, and is often used as transitional housing. You will have fewer responsibilities, such as cleaning. However, furnished rooms have some disadvantages to consider, such as lack of privacy, visitor restrictions, house rules, other tenants, etc.
NOTE: Some landlords do not rent to tenants who do not have references, a good credit history and a job, so finding an apartment can take time. If you can show a history of responsibility, obtain solid references and have proof of a steady income, you can probably find an apartment more quickly.
An efficiency apartment is a one-room apartment and are always small and feature a combined living and sleeping space. Most efficiency apartments are one room with a separate bathroom. Efficiencies have a kitchenette area attached to the living area. A wall of appliances and counter space is a common setup.The appliances are often smaller than usual, such as a half fridge, a one or two burner stove and a small sink with a small counter area and are more for heating food than cooking full meals.
A studio apartment is not always small, but is also comprised of one room that combines the living and sleeping spaces.Some studios may have an alcove area for sleeping or a loft area that is open to the main room. They feature a separate bath and kitchen with full size appliances.
NOTE: Both apartment styles are highly functional and require some specialized furniture placement and decoration in order to achieve delineated spaces. Storage is usually at a premium in these units and furniture items often have to perform multiple functions to accommodate storage needs. Privacy can be an issue if there are guests.
- Broker's Fee
A broker's fee is the amount of money you pay to an apartment broker or realtor for finding you an apartment. Broker's fees can be expensive and are often more than one month's rent. If possible, ask others for assistance before using a broker to find an apartment.
- Credit Check Fee
The landlord may check your credit rating and could charge you a credit check fee of about $25. You should ask if you will be charged this fee. (This is a routine check into your financial status and does not indicate if you were or were not in foster care.)
- Security Deposit
Most landlords require a security deposit of one month's rent, but some landlords require more - be sure to ask. The security deposit is returned to you after you move out, unless the landlord keeps the deposit to pay for unpaid rent or damage to the apartment. You will usually need at least one month's rent, but a security deposit before moving in.
A lease is a written legal contract that the tenant (you) and the landlord (the property owner) sign. This contact states the specific time period you will live in the apartment and the set amount of rent.
- Supportive Housing
Supportive housing programs offer support services to help you succeed, including job counseling, health care, and mental health care and many other intensive case management supports. They can also help you find an apartment when you are ready to take the next step and be completely on your own.
Pros and Cons to Supportive Housing
It lets you get used to independent living in affordable apartments (supportive housing is often cheaper than other apartments).
Often long waiting lists. It can take several months to over a year to be accepted into some of the apartment programs. You should apply a year or more before you want to move in. You will have to sign certain agreements and follow more rules than if you lived independently.