“It’s hard for young people to find adequate affordable housing if they choose not to go to college or don’t have parents they can live with,” says Kayla Brockington, who founded Project Niche to teach teens independent living skills and connect them with resources to prevent them from entering the foster care system. “Making minimum wage, it’s impossible — A person like me can’t do it.”

Kayla Brockington

Kayla Brockington, CEO, Project Niche

Brockington, who is 21 and a single mother, explains that most apartments and single family homes in Richmond require applicants to prove their income at three times the base rent, which for a self-employed business owner like herself is difficult to prove. On top of that, “You have to have good credit. Most young people don’t even know what credit is, and they don’t have a rental history.”

The situation is difficult enough for any young person facing today’s affordable housing crisis, but for teens leaving the foster care system or who have recently been homeless, it’s compounded by the fact that low-income housing has long waiting periods — often months, or even years — and is typically located in poor neighborhoods that lack transportation and crucial support services.

That’s why Brockington, when she heard about Commonwealth Catholic Charities’ (CCC) plan to turn a parking lot and former parole office building into a services center and affordable housing for at-risk youth, was eager to get involved and share her ideas at the group’s engagement sessions. “This project can mean whatever the community wants,” says Charles Hall, Vice President of Housing at CCC’s Richmond office. “We have the opportunity for the youth to dream.”

According to Brockington, “Being able to live as one person and afford the rent is the most important part. A lot of single parents simply can’t meet rent requirements, and women especially can get stuck living with someone who is not healthy just to be able to share the rent.”

In addition to affordable housing, which is scarce in the affluent town of Richmond, many youth expressed a strong desire for a sense of community, where they could network and have a sense of belonging with other youth who share their same struggles and goals. Their suggestions for the space include mentorship opportunities, rotating speakers giving perspectives on a variety of topics, career and skill workshops, and communal spaces for sharing food and celebrations. For many that sense of family and community can make all the difference.

“I’m just hoping this is really going to help young people transition,” says Brockington. “Not just give them a place to stay, but give them services and support, and a healthy environment. A place that they can take pride in living.”

Commonwealth Catholic Charities, in partnership with other youth focused service providers, is planning to create a unique, first-of-its-kind building dedicated to supporting Richmond’s youth with a space rich in community — designed to be an empathetic and safe environment, full of empowering public art and installations, and most importantly, a project programmed and powered by Richmond’s youth.