5 families go from being homeless to moving into their own apartments

A turning point came Monday night in Marin County for five families who went from homeless to moving into their own apartments.

Oma Village in Novato is a new 14-unit apartment building on Nave Drive in Novato, $6 million and five years in the making.

Among the tenants spending their first night: 24-year-old Shykil Byrd and 23-year-old Delaina Hester.

They are the parents of two daughters, ages 5 months and 5 years.

"It's exciting to say, 'Ellyanna go to your room and play with your toys," exclaimed Hester as she unpacked.

After two years of moving among family, friends, hotels and shelters, the couple is amazed to be renting a modern 2 bedroom, 2 bath unit for $775 per month.

Byrd is an athletic trainer and college student, and unable to afford market rate rents.

"Without this, we didn't know where we were going, honestly," Byrd told KTVU.

"We stayed in the family shelter for six months, and we were still looking, couldn't find anything."

Hester, holding baby Layla, also expressed gratitude.

"Now that Layla has a home, it's so exciting because this is her first home," Hester smiled.

All of the tenants at Oma Village come from shelters or transitional housing run by Homeward Bound of Marin.

The complex is named for a pastor and housing advocate who has helped marshal support for struggling families for years.

"We don't mean this to be a place others would stereotype, we mean it to be a beautiful place," Rev. Betty "Oma" Pagett told KTVU.

"When I walked in and saw how gracious and lovely the apartments are, I had tears in my eyes."

Many materials were donated or discounted, but the facility does not resemble "low-income" housing and each apartment is fully furnished.

Everything is brand new, from the furniture to the appliances to the fully-stocked kitchens.

"There are no words because words can't express how happy we are," tenant Lyonel Lewis told KTVU, as he waited for his wife and daughter to arrive.

"We were definitely in need of a miracle, and this was one."

To be approved, candidates must have children, a job, and goals.

They can stay as long as they want, but with a fixed rent, it's hoped they will save money and become independent, then free up the space for someone else.

"We want to encourage people who are working and moving their lives in the right direction," explained Paul

Fordham, Deputy Director of Homeward Bound of Marin.

"This way, they can have a dignified place to be, and their children can have a safe, stable place to live. That's what we all want."

The key obstacles to such developments are the availability of land and financing.

Oma Village was paid for with private, public and charitable funds and has no debt, allowing rents to remain low.

For the incoming families, the sudden shift in circumstances is hard to believe.

"I have my own house, and I can hang up my own clothes, and have my own space," marveled Dalaina Hester. "This is like a dream."