Formerly Homeless Oakland Father and His Son Find a Home

Marvin Jordan and his son, Marvin Jr., moved into their apartment in April 2016 with their Section 8 voucher. (Devin Katayama/KQED)

Marvin Jordan called KQED recently with some good news: He found an apartment in Oakland.

That was a big deal, because when we met him in 2015, Jordan was homeless. He was walking the streets, knocking on doors and leaving letters for landlords, trying to find anyone who would accept his Section 8 housing voucher.

Getting a voucher is partly a matter of luck. The application periods are years apart and waitlists in cities like Oakland can be thousands of people deep. Plus, in the current housing shortage, landlords have been leaving the voluntary Section 8 program because they can get more money on the open market than the vouchers can cover.

So, it’s taking people longer to find apartments. The Oakland Housing Authority (OHA), which distributes Section 8 vouchers, gives people a few months to find a place before their vouchers expire.

OHA has been granting extensions for up to a year for people like Jordan to find a place. It wasn’t until the last day of his final extension that he got a call from a property management group that he’d been reaching out to almost daily. They had a place for him.

“It brought tears to me eyes,” he said.

Jordan said telling his story to the property management group helped: How he was once addicted to drugs and alcohol. How he spent time in jail. How he was homeless, but determined to take care of his kid, Marvin Jordan Jr.

in 2015, Marvin Jordan leaves a note at an apartment in Berkeley to try and convince a landlord to rent to him using his Section 8 voucher.
in 2015, Marvin Jordan leaves a note at an apartment in Berkeley to try to convince a landlord to rent to him using his Section 8 voucher. (Devin Katayama/KQED )

Since April 2016, Jordan and his son have been living in his two-bedroom apartment on 105th Avenue in Oakland. His $1,500 rent is subsidized by his voucher. He’s not too fond of his East Oakland neighborhood, but he’s grateful to have a place.

“When I got in here I said to myself, ‘When we close our doors, this is our neighborhood,’ ” Jordan said.

Oakland’s rents have seen some of the steepest increases in the nation in recent years, although there are some signs the housing market is cooling off. One more small, but positive sign, is the number of landlords participating in the Section 8 program.

Between June 2015 and June 2016, 310 landlords in Oakland dropped out of the Section 8 program, according to OHA. But in the first few months of 2017, a couple of dozen landlords have been added to the program, said OHA Executive Director Eric Johnson.

Plus, out of the 580 voucher holders who found apartments between July 2016 and April 2017, 40 percent leased in the last three months, Johnson said.

Oakland isn’t alone. The Housing Authority of the County of Alameda has also seen a small increase in landlord participation and tenants who are leasing up, according to Executive Director Christine Gouig.

“The market does seem to be leveling off,” Gouig wrote in an email. “Of course, the level remains very high, but we are not seeing the requests for rent increases of $400-$500 that we once were.”

It also helped when a number of Bay Area housing authorities won approval from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to increase the rent amounts that vouchers could cover.

But it still takes a voucher holder in Oakland between four to six months on average to find a place, Johnson said.

OHA is aware that convincing landlords to participate in the Section 8 program can be a tough sell. The paperwork and government bureaucracy can be tedious, Johnson said.

But keeping and growing the roughly 4,254 Oakland landlords in the program is the goal. HUD recently granted OHA approval for a number of incentives to keep and attract more landlords.

Among the incentives are rent increases for certain neighborhoods, a one-time $500 payment for new landlords, an expedited inspection process, payments for participating landlords searching for new tenants, and capital improvement loans.

“We did this specifically because we have to address what’s happening in this market,” Johnson said.

OHA has also partnered with a number of single-room-occupancy (SRO) property owners to subsidize operating costs in exchange for renting to residents with lower incomes.

“If we’re going to have long-term affordability, if we’re really going to make sure we have economic diversity in this city going forward, we really feel you have to lock down as many hard units as you can,” Johnson said.

Marvin Jordan is grateful to have found an apartment. Around the same time, he also found a job working with people who are trying to navigate social services. He’s able to share his experiences with them, he said. And since he and his son moved into their place, he’s noticed dramatic improvements in Marvin Jr.’s  mood, he said.

Still, Jordan said he’s having trouble saving money. He puts $50 from every paycheck into a savings account that’s supposed to be used for his son. But after paying for his subsidized rent, car insurance and other bills, he often needs to dip into that pot.

“I thought I could have a savings,” Jordan said. “But I end up spending it because we have to live, and we have to eat.”

Formerly Homeless Oakland Father and His Son Find a Home 28 June,2017Devin Katayama

  • BAG510

    I am happy you found a place for you and your son. Praise God.

  • Patty

    I was so moved by this story. I would very much like to help. Is there a GoFundMe page or some other way to help. It takes so little to tip the balance one way or the other and he and his son deserve every chance.

    • Devin Katayama

      Hi Patty,
      I’m the reporter who is in touch with Mr. Jordan. Please email me at Thanks, Devin

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    BRAVO Marvin Jordon!! Mr. Jordon might be interested in the 1.4 Acre City Slickers Urban Farm Park in West Oakland, that is a publically operated park complete with kids area but also a community garden, and production farm that grows food for the local community. As their website notes their backyard garden program builds food self-sufficiency by empowering low-income families, childcare providers, senior centers and community groups to grow fresh produce for their own communities. They construct raised-bed gardens and provide on-going mentorship to ensure that gardeners feel supported as they grow their own food, which also is a big money saver. Maybe someone can let Mr. Jordon know about their program.

  • WIltonguy45

    Wow, so F up your entire life and you get free rent for doing so! How does an ex con with no job and homeless have custody of a 3 year old? By the time you add in food stamps and free lunch program and all of the other cradle to grave liberal handouts this guy is making more than most working people.

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      Wiltonguy45 Do you feel the same about white corporate men who get a slap on the wrist, getting government breaks instead of getting sentenced to prison? Or the while middle class person who has been arrested for drug use, but can afford a good attorney to avoid prison?

      • yu888

        Clearly he’s a troll, don’t bother feeding the trolls.

    • Tina Ku Sleeper

      Rehabilitation is not just good for the rehabilitated – it’s good for all of us. The community gets back a working citizen. The child gets his dad, who, for the record, found a paying job helping others.

      • Beth Grant DeRoos

        Tina Ku Sleeper I agree 100% with you. The word Rehabilitation means to restore to a condition of good health, ability to work, and the like. Its amazing that people think its fine to take an old home that needs one hundred thousands dollars in rehab work to fix the plumbing, wiring, foundation, window, roof to save the once beautiful home, yet helping a fellow human being restore their body mind and soul and become a whole healthy productive human being is a negative? Will never understand that type of thinking. Not to mention ‘oh but by the grace of God do I’…. is something every human should ponder.

        • Tina Ku Sleeper

          That’s beautiful Beth, thank you.

    • George

      Never give up helping people turn their lives around it’s one of the greatest things a person can do for humanity.

      • Beth Grant DeRoos

        George your lovely comment reminds me of a wonderful saying, that when we save one person we save the world.


Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama is a reporter covering the East Bay for KQED News. Previously, he was the education reporter for WFPL in Louisville and worked as a producer with radio stations in Chicago and Portland, OR. His work has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, The Takeaway and Here and Now.

Devin earned his MA in Journalism from Columbia College Chicago, where he was a Follett Fellow and the recipient of the 2011 Studs Terkel Community Media Workshop Scholarship for his story on Chicago’s homeless youth. He won WBUR’s 2014 Daniel Schorr award and a regional RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award for his documentary “At Risk” that looked at issues facing some of Louisville’s students. Devin has also received numerous local awards from the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Email: Twitter: @RadioDevin Website:

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