Project helping single moms get into better housing, schools

The nonprofit helps single moms bring their children to better neighborhoods.

Steve Wartenberg
Amy Klaben, project facilitator of Move to Prosper

The phone call from Move to Prosper couldn’t have come at a better time for Bessie Jackson and her two sons, Braylon, 12, and Derius, 8. “We were technically homeless,” Jackson says. Her grandmother’s old, drafty, money pit of a home on the East Side where she and her boys were living had caught fire four days earlier and was uninhabitable. Jackson, a home health care worker, had lost her job.

“We were living in a hotel,” she says.

It was 2018, and Jackson had been accepted into the three-year pilot of Move to Prosper, a collaboration between Ohio State University’s city and regional planning program and community organizations. The guiding principle is that single mothers and their children do better in higher-opportunity, safer neighborhoods with better school systems. The problem: These neighborhoods are expensive and beyond the means of most low-wage earners.

Through Move to Prosper, 10 women and their 13 children were given support so they could move into communities with high-ranking schools: Gahanna, Dublin, Olentangy and Hilliard. The moms also receive coaching on financial, career, educational and wellness goals.

Amy Klaben is the project facilitator for Move to Prosper. For 16 years, she led Homeport, the Columbus affordable housing nonprofit. She left in 2015, determined to “find strategic opportunities for kids who live in areas of concentrated poverty,” Klaben says.

Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther recently said more than 54,000 residents spend more than half their income on housing. Spending 30 percent or more on housing is considered a “cost burden,” according to U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

To break the cycle of housing insecurity, the women in the Move to Prosper pilot moved into apartments where the owners agreed to cut rent by $100, and Move to Prosper gave each family $200 a month.

Gina Smith is one of four coaches who work with the moms, who range “from highly educated to some who didn’t get past high school,” Smith says. “One of my moms called to tell me her son had tested gifted and they wanted to put him in the gifted program at school. This has changed the trajectory for the entire family.”

The move to Gahanna certainly changed life for Jackson and her boys. “My goodness, as far as the education system, this is the best move I could have made,” she says. Braylon had some behavioral issues at his previous school. “He entered school here in the fourth grade, but only had a second-grade reading level. At the end of the year, he jumped up to his [fourth-grade] level. They didn’t give up on him.”

The behavioral issues? Gone.

Jackson, who is working full-time in home health care, wants to find a permanent place to live in Gahanna. “I was always drowning before, was behind and never had a budget. Now, I have a budget and have set money aside, and, wow, this really works.”

Because of Covid-19, the 10 women and their children were given a fourth year in the program.

Jason Reece, an Ohio State assistant professor in city and regional planning, is on the Move to Prosper advisory board. He says living in unsafe neighborhoods, sending children to poor-performing schools and constantly worrying about finances creates “chronic stress [for mothers] and the persistent fear of what could happen to their children. Once the families were stabilized, we saw improvements in education [and] in income.”

With the pilot program nearing completion, it’s time to expand Move to Prosper, Klaben says. In November, it announced it would move forward with a $6.4 million initiative to provide assistance to 100 families. Humana donated $75,000. Soon after, local businessman Carl Faller announced he would match up to $50,000 in donations.

Faller says he’s known Klaben since she her days at Homeport and that her proposals “are always very deliberate and well-thought out. It’s so important to make this effort so more people can have the opportunity to achieve personal success.”

Steve Wartenberg is a freelance writer.

Move to Prosper

Ebner Building, 1070 College Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43209

Business: A collaboration between Ohio State University’s city and regional planning program and community partners to improve the housing and financial stability of low-wage families headed by women through rental support, coaching and education.

Employees: About 10

Revenue: Not disclosed