A child’s hand-drawn pictures adorn the walls. The television plays cartoons and Duchess, a bearded dragon lizard, rests in an aquarium next to a humming refrigerator. Jax, the family dog, sits on a bed.
Food, dishes and utensils nestle in milk crates, and a massive tool box occupies space next to the door.
Mom and dad sleep on the queen bed on the right by the door. The girl sleeps on the queen to the left.
“We get funny looks when we say we live in a motel,” said Mandi Creel, 23.
Mandi, daughter Arianna, 6, and husband Albert, live at the 66 Motel in Flagstaff, and now they can focus on saving money to find a more permanent place to live. The motel was taken over by a new nonprofit called ANEW Living at the beginning of the month.
“It provides a room to call a home,” said Lori Barlow, executive director of ANEW Living.
The mission: “ANEW Living offers a unique approach to meeting the housing needs our our community by converting older distressed motels into affordable housing alternatives. The rooms and small apartments available at ANEW Living are offered as a step up from the traditional transitional housing facilities while continuing to provide on-site services geared towards renewing and restoring hope to individuals and families seeking to end their cycle of homelessness and build pathways to a healthy productive lifestyle promoting self-sufficiency.”
Barlow, former executive director at Flagstaff Shelter Services, said that her experiences at the shelter prompted her to work toward making ANEW Living a reality.
“I saw a huge lack in affordable housing for working people,” Barlow said. “I saw many people at the shelter with jobs who couldn’t make that leap to apartment and home.”
She cited expensive rents and low-paying jobs as the primary barriers for people at the shelter being able to make that leap. ANEW helps with that, she said.
So, she approached the pastor of her church, Church for the Nations, and the church agreed to be the nonprofit sponsor agency to offer temporary financial backing. Barlow was quick to add that her organization is a secular one, and there are no requirements for religious activity.
The motel, leased from owner Indu Patel, has 20 rooms for about 40 people that vary from single occupancy to apartment size.
HARD WORK AHEAD
The expenses for the new project are the lease payment, utilities and insurance with a budget of about $149,000, Barlow said. Projected revenues, including fundraising, are $162,000. The money left over will be applied toward fixing the damaged rooms. The ReStore at Habitat for Humanity has been instrumental in donating supplies and materials.
“Our residents are all pitching in and donating all the labor,” Barlow said. “We have several tenants in construction.”
The residents who help receive deductions off their rent payments.
The bottom line, Barlow said, is that without the repairs, the organization would be self supportive, but the building is nearly 60 years old and has very little work done to it over the years – with plumbing, water heater replacements, roof repairs and electrical upgrades.
And, at some point in the future, she said ANEW is planning to expand to other old motels in the city if possible. The nonprofit is in negotiations with the building owner for a possible lease-to-own arrangement.
Whereas before the motel saw a large population of customers with alcohol and drug problems, those customers have moved on. And rents, which were collected weekly, as a motel, are now collected monthly. A single is $600 a month, which is $200 less than before.
Barlow said that one of the rooms will be devoted to offering on-site programs for the residents – financial literacy, job interview skills, interpersonal skills, coping from loss or trauma, social activities, cooking on a budget, computer skills and more.
“We want to create more than a social environment,” Barlow said.
The potential residents will be referred from agencies that have transition programs and work with people who are working their way to independence and self-sufficiency – Catholic Charities, Flagstaff Shelter Services, Veterans Resource Center, and Dorsey Manor and Hope Cottage at Sunshine Rescue Mission, Inc. The advisory board for ANEW is made up of representatives from those referring agencies. The people who stay at ANEW will have to demonstrate income, and if they have mental health or substance abuse issues, must establish that they are stabilized.
“This is truly a step up,” Barlow said.
Mandi and her family also qualified for the program.
“We were actually happy,” Mandi said. “We were kind of worried when we heard rumors of the motel sold and didn’t know if we were going to have to move.”
Their rent was lowered, too, and now they pay monthly. A $200 reduction in rent is important.
“For people who are struggling, that helps,” Mandi said.
Mandi works at Cracker Barrel, and Albert works in the area installing flooring. Arianna attends school at Killip Elementary. They moved to Flagstaff last summer to be with Mandi’s mother, Julie, who also stays in a room at the motel.
They’ve been saving from paychecks and their tax refund will also go toward building a nest egg to afford a home – first and last month’s rent, deposit, and breathing room to ensure they can cover rent. Mandi said she and Albert are in the process of looking right now – something in the $700 to $800 range.
“We need to make sure after the deposits, we can afford it,” Mandi said.
She said her hope is that they are in a permanent place in less than six months.
As for living in a motel, she said, “It’s not something you go bragging about. But it’s a roof over our head, with home-cooked meals. A place you know you can go to bed and be comfortable with.”
The family, this week, was able to move in a refurbished apartment unit on the property, with separate rooms.
Mandi said she appreciates what ANEW is doing.
“There needed to be a place like what she’s doing here,” Mandi said. “What she’s doing here, I can’t begin to say how great it is. It’s awesome.”
CLOSE TO THE ACTION
Barlow is willing to put her money where he mouth is. She said she will be living at the motel in the little apartment off the office.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it from afar,” she said. “It will help me see what we need to do to make this a safe community for our families – for me to live it.”
“We’re starting to chisel away at that hole with have in our continuum of care,” Barlow added.