Sarah’s eyes are bright, her excitement obvious. She can’t hide it as she describes the new apartment she and her kids moved into at Iris Place, right in time for the little ones to come running down the stairs on Christmas morn’ — just one of the things she’s always wanted in a home.

“I mean, this is like everything I’ve ever asked for but didn’t get,” she says. “I’ve always wanted stairs, I’ve always wanted the kids to have their own rooms, I’ve always wanted that space.”

“And I’m still amazed by the price, honestly. Oh my gosh, that feels good, to know I don’t have to worry about that.”

Sarah and three children — Delana, 17, Nathaniel, 5, and Zachary, 3 — previously lived in a cramped 2-bedroom apartment with monthly rent of $1,150. Now, as one of the first households to move into St. Vincent de Paul’s newest affordable-housing property, Sarah will pay $695 for a spacious 3-bedroom, 1.5-bath floorplan.

The increased space will help the family thrive. For one, Delana gets her own well-deserved bedroom and no longer has to sleep on a sofa bed near the kitchen, offering no privacy from her little brothers.

And the reduced rent will actually allow Sarah to continue living with her kids in Eugene rather than move back to her native Pennsylvania, where she says affordable housing is much easier to find. She had already started to plan that return trip east when she got the call about Iris Place.

At last, stability ahead

It was a rough road from East Coast to West, when Sarah and her ex-partner moved cross-country to live with his mother in Florence. That arrangement was short-lived, and led to other short-term stays in motels and a camper. Sarah ultimately moved on from a domestic violence situation with the help of Hope & Safety Alliance in Eugene, an SVdP partner agency with several Iris Place units set aside for families affected by violence.

Domestic strife was only the start of Sarah’s recent life struggles. Her youngest son has leukemia, which is currently in remission after months of treatment at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.

“After he got sick, it wasn’t about taking care of me, it was about me trying to take care of all three of them and keeping it all as positive as possible,” Sarah says. In fact, she has two other adult children and has spent her own adulthood focused more on caring for others than herself.

But she suffered a heart attack herself this past summer related to stress and an admittedly poor diet. Now she wears a portable defibrillator, has regular physical therapy, and awaits surgery early in the new year before she can return to her previous job in the distribution industry.

“I feel like that heart attack was God’s way of saying, ‘Now it’s time to take care of you,’” she says. “Now, finding this place is like Ahhhh … OK, now it can be just about living. I’ve spent many years, not just in Oregon, struggling. I’m trying to tell myself that it’s time to relax, and it doesn’t have to be all about those stresses. I want to be able to do more with the kids and make sure that they’re getting those happy memories.”

Needless to say, both her and her son’s illnesses limited Sarah’s ability to work and pay for anything but absolute essentials. Often, she had to make hard choices about what to forgo in order to keep the roof overhead.

“Things come up and you can’t work,” she says. “That’s what was scary for me, like all my Social Security was going to go to rent … but it was like somehow, somebody knew I was going to struggle and got me into this place. I also received my Section 8 at the same time I got this application, so I just felt blessed.”

Sarah received other forms of rent assistance, COVID-19 benefits, and other help during Zachary’s illness. But the Iris Place opportunity blessedly bloomed right as some other forms of aid were ending.

“This is a really good chance to have the stability that I’ve been dreaming about,” she says. “I’ll be able to afford this. I’m not looking at leaving and being uncertain again; this is going to be our home, and it’s spacious enough that it will feel like that even as the boys grow.”

Reasons to celebrate

Growing up will be the furthest thing from the boys’ minds this Christmas. They’ll have colorful boxes and gift bags to open from SVdP’s Holiday Joy program, and others provided by Hope & Safety Alliance.

Sarah had three girls in the same age range from a previous relationship, and later the two younger boys close in age, so she’s always had multiple kids to buy presents for at the same time. This holiday season, the typical stress caused by that financial strain is also diminished.

“Getting us into this house was our biggest gift. But I’ll also get to see the kids run down the stairs Christmas morning — and they’ll get to open something really nice this year as well,” says Sarah, her smile widening and her eyes brightening even more.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Every unit of affordable housing makes a story like Sarah’s possible. Your financial donation can help SVdP’s affordable-housing program continue to build new opportunities for low-income individuals and families.