Credit: Andrew Reed / EdSource

Young Californians in extended foster care may soon get relief from rising housing costs if Assembly Bill 525, recently introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting, is passed.

The bill seeks to create a housing supplement that would increase the monthly amount of financial assistance that youth in extended foster care can receive, based on the county they live in. The increased amount would supplement the base rate that youth currently receive, which is $1,129 regardless of their county of residence.

“Foster youth are some of the most vulnerable youth in the entire state,” said Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco. “It’s absolutely critical that we do everything possible to support them. … Just a little bit more money every month would go quite a long way.”

When California extended foster care over a decade ago from age 18 up to age 21, the state also created supervised independent living placements, commonly referred to as SILPs, to accommodate youth deemed ready to live independently rather than with a foster family or in other non-independent housing. AB 525 would apply only to youth in SILPs, which is the most common type of housing for foster youth in that same age group. As of October, more than  3,300 youth were in SILPs. The bill is modeled after Assembly Bill 79, which was passed in 2020 and created a similar supplement for youth in extended foster care who live in transitional housing.

To qualify for this type of housing, foster youth must be between ages 18 and 21 and must find the housing of their choice on their own. The housing they identify is required to meet typical health and safety standards before being approved as an SILP.

Foster youth who live in SILPs have been found to be particularly vulnerable to homelessness, according to recent reports.

“The message we are sending to young people and the opportunity we are actually giving them are two different things,” said Alexis Barries, one of the first to benefit from the extension of the foster care system, in a recent report on SILPs from the John Burton Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit that advocates for homeless and foster youth in the state. “The message is that we want to help youth stabilize and become independent, but we don’t offer enough resources to do that. If you can’t afford housing, how can you stabilize?”

A 2016 study found that nearly half of youth in California’s foster care system between ages 18 and 21 experienced bouts of homelessness that stretched from a few weeks at a time to several months. Often, they experienced several instances of homelessness. Plus, a 2022 tax filing report found that nearly three-fourths of current and former foster youth live at or below 150% of the federal poverty level.

In the report from John Burton Advocates for Youth, Barries recounted having to live in her car for a few months in order to save money because the financial support she received from the state was insufficient to cover her expenses, including housing, during those first few years as an adult forced her to change her goal of attending law school, she said.

Lack of sufficient funding for basic needs is a long-established barrier for low-income youth, at times diverting their higher education plans. For foster youth with no family support to rely on, the need can become greater.

Nearly 10 years later, Barries says the monthly stipend remains insufficient, stating “the reality is, SILP payment wasn’t enough in 2012, and it’s not enough in 2023.” She now works as a mental health clinician.

In 2012, each foster youth in SILPs received $799 monthly. The amount was increased to $1,129 last July. Within the same time frame, housing costs have increased substantially across California — by as much as 80% in some counties with a higher cost of living, according to the John Burton report.

The supplemental amount that AB 525 would implement relies on the fair market rate system developed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for their housing support programs, which would be calculated on an annual basis depending on housing costs in their county of residence and be paid monthly to each foster youth.

In an interview with EdSource, Ting recalled how heavily he relied on his family when he was a young adult aged 18 to 21. Foster youth, he said, often don’t have that family support to rely on.

“The state is really their assistance,” said Ting. “If we don’t provide them the assistance to be able to afford housing, they really have nowhere else to go.”

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