With high rents for even a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the East Bay, shared-car driver Lisa Sprague was living well beyond her means just to pay her bills, and it only took her a few setbacks to get to the point to become homeless. But then she spoke to her pastor, who knew a way to get a roof over her head for a reasonable price.
“I was trying my hardest and working incredibly hard, but it became completely unsustainable for the past six months to a year,” said the Lafayette resident, noting that she felt “trapped.” “No matter what I did, I wouldn’t have been able to catch up. I wouldn’t have been able to pay the back money I owed and the rent.”
Without a steady income and benefits of a full-time regular job, Sprague, like many, was only a paycheck or two away from “terrible things,” she said.
“In my case, it’s like my back hurts for a week or more, then that’s it,” the gig worker said. “I’m already so far behind the eighth ball at that point, it’s just snowing.”
Fortunately, Rev. Shawn Robinson of Clayton Community Church had heard about a nonprofit organization, the Yellow Roof Foundation, that builds rental housing and accessory housing units (ADUs) for people like Sprague who work but still can barely afford rent in the Bay Area. . The name of the foundation symbolizes hope, which it wants to offer through affordable housing.
Clayton is one of four East Bay communities where the DeNova Homes charity has built or is in the process of building such rental properties. There are also indoor ones Pittsburgh and others are planned in Oakley, Antioch and Solano Counties, converting many city surpluses or donated lands into affordable housing.
Founded five years ago by Dave and Lori Sanson, owners of DeNova Homes of Concord, Yellow Roof aims to help people who work hard, are contributing members of their communities, but are going through hard times due to circumstances beyond their control and at risk to become homeless. The name of the foundation symbolizes hope, which it wants to offer with affordable rental housing.
As California’s housing crisis continues to grow — especially as the number of affordable homes shrinks — the population is also on the brink of homelessness, the Sansons say.
The nonprofit’s first venture, Gonsalves Village, was in Pittsburg, where Yellow Roof built three homes and three ADUs on surplus city land it acquired downtown last year.
“When we formed the Yellow Roof Foundation, we made it a priority to work with local jurisdictions to acquire and develop successor agencies (former redevelopment) and excess lots to provide rental housing at below-market rates,” said Lori Sanson. “That’s exactly what we’re accomplishing in Oakley, and we’re so grateful that the city is joining us in a solution to address the region’s housing crisis.”
Eight more units will be built on the excess land that Yellow Roof recently acquired from Oakley. The land, three-quarters of an acre, will be used to create the foundation’s third collection of homes in the greater Bay Area. The construction of four houses will start soon, all of which will contain ADUs. Homes will range from 740 to 1,475 square feet, with one and three bedroom plans available.
For its fourth Bay Area neighborhood, Yellow Roof is negotiating the purchase of excess land in Antioch. Once the purchase is complete, the foundation plans to build 10 affordable units.
The foundation is privately funded and ensures that none of its residents pay more than 30% of their income into any of its income-based affordable communities, DeNova officials said.
“You know, the cost of living in California is not an easy thing to do,” Robinson said, noting that Sprague was about to be evicted and her car repossessed when he referred her to the Yellow Roof program, which buys two affordable homes. had with yet to be selected tenants in Clayton.
Robinson had helped Sprague when she moved to Clayton from New Orleans many years ago to care for her ailing mother, he said. She later had a bad car accident and the pastor put her in touch with church members who had rooms to rent and eventually helped her find the apartment in Lafayette closer to work.
Sprague was a professional cellist in New Orleans, but it would have been impossible to live on a musician’s salary in the Bay Area, she said, and her health problems weren’t helping. So the Clayton resident drove for Uber to pay for expenses.
“She was gifted, kind of a rising star (musician), and then you know, with that accident and her mother’s death, it just happened all at once and it just set her back,” Robinson said. “It just got to a point where she just couldn’t make it, and so we prayed for her to find another source.”
The pastor said he was skeptical at first when Yellow Roof’s program coordinator contacted him and other pastors, but he was soon “impressed” with the program.
“They (the developer) build houses, but they also seriously care for people in need,” he said, noting that the rent is less than a third of what Sprague had paid.
And while Robinson said Yellow Roof may only be helping a few residents at a time, he said helping is life-changing and he’s in awe of “everyone who goes out of their way to make a difference in people’s lives.” get back.
“They could have just acted like anyone who is out for greed and money, but they said part of what we want to be is to give back and shake hands with people, not handouts.”
Under the program, Sprague will enjoy the cheap rent for three years. Job assistance and finance classes are also available to help tenants get back on their feet. After three years, another tenant will have the same opportunity.
“So the hope — and I believe it’s going to happen — is that she can save some money so she’s a little more stable on her feet after that three-year program,” Robinson said. “I think she’s going to thrive.”
Sprague recently moved into the Yellow Roof 350 square foot ADU. It sits next to a new 1,580-square-foot home that the nonprofit also built. A young family of four has been selected for that home, according to Yellow Roof officials.
The ADU may seem small, but it’s a new beginning for Sprague, who said she’ll be relieved to just sit in her own place after so much stress from past financial burdens.
Sprague also hopes that she can finally make music again, even though she no longer has a cello.
“It actually gives me an incredible opportunity for some kind of rebirth at age 55,” she said.
The foundation is planning a “Raise the Roof” fundraiser at The Culinary Institute of America in Copia on April 30, with country music Grammy Award winner Carly Pearce providing the entertainment. Tickets start at $175 each and can be pre-ordered at
More information about the Yellow Roof Foundation can be found at www.yellowrooffoundation.org