Ep. 23: Community Housing

Angie Lozano started Angie's House to give people in need a place to lay their head at night — and reminded us all that just one person can make a real difference.

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Angie Lozano, founder of Angie's House

Former financial executive Angie Lozano started Angie’s House to give people in need in her Cottonwood, Ariz., community a place to lay their head at night — and reminded us all that one person can make a real difference, even in social problems that seem insurmountable.

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SUE: (as music plays lightly in the background) You’re listening to Good on the Ground...

VARIOUS VOICES: ...Good on the Ground...

COLLEEN: ...You’re listening to Good on the Ground from The Story Exchange.

*Musical Interlude*

ANGIE: Being loved and accepted and a place to lay your head at night is huge in order for you to be able to, to get back up on your feet.

COLLEEN: I'm Colleen DeBaise.

SUE: And I'm Sue Williams.

COLLEEN: Today we are speaking to a remarkable woman...

SUE: She really is.

COLLEEN: ...who saw a need in her community...

SUE: ...and decided to do something.

COLLEEN: For this "Good on the Ground" podcast, we head to Cottonwood, Arizona...

ANGIE: I’m Angie Lozano. I’m Founder and Executive Director of Angie’s House.

SUE: ...to talk with a former financial executive...

COLLEEN: ...who has turned rental properties she owns into transitional homes...

SUE: ...to help the homeless...

COLLEEN: ...people who often struggle with drug addiction, mental illness...

SUE: ...or who’ve been in prison...

COLLEEN: ...to help them rebuild their lives.

SUE: If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the negativity in the news right now...

COLLEEN: ...then give this podcast a listen.

SUE: It's a reminder that there are people sacrificing a lot to do good in this world.

*Musical Interlude*

ANGIE: Angie’s House works with government agencies and other nonprofits to provide housing for low-income individuals.

SUE: We're inside one of the properties that Angie owns. She’s talking to a resident.

SOT: You’ve been here how long?
-I’ve been here, I’ve been here the longest, almost two and a half years.

ANGIE: For individuals sometimes it’s really not their fault that they’re homeless. Sometimes it’s beyond their control, but they’re all capable of getting out of it.

COLLEEN: Our story begins in Cottonwood, Arizona, population 12,000, where Angie was born.

SUE: It's the heart of the Verde Valley, a short drive from Sedona.

ANGIE: It was a small town. You could, you know, go out in the evening and play and you knew the people that lived next door. It was a really nice place to grow up.

COLLEEN: Angie's parents were hard workers.

SUE: But, as Angie would say, there was never quite enough to go around.

ANGIE: It shaped my life. It did. I said, “Okay. I will work hard to get what I want but I will have to save for it.”

COLLEEN: She was good with numbers, so she went to Northern Arizona University, which is an hour or two away in Flagstaff.

ANGIE: However I did commute because I did not want to have a large number of loans.

SUE: This brings us to another thing she learned from her parents.

ANGIE: I’m very frugal. You have to spend very wisely to make the money go as far as you need it to go.

COLLEEN: One of her first jobs after college was with the Northern Arizona Council of Governments.

ANGIE: Which turns out to be an organization does the accounting for a lot of state and federally-funded programs.

SUE: After that, she worked for a few certified public accountants.

ANGIE: And then I got my dream job, which was wonderful. It was a large corporation centered out of Sedona and they had many resorts. It was a great job, pay was really well, and then I became CFO.

COLLEEN: By the time the year 2000 rolled around, Angie was helping the resort company make $75 million dollars in sales.

ANGIE: I loved it.

SUE: Which is also about the time there was a merger.

ANGIE: A company from Florida merged with our company since we were doing so well, and again, they always tell you, “Your job’s secure.” Of course that was not the case and so a lot of the top managers were, were released. And at that point was when I thought, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do now that I’ve lost my dream job?”

*Musical Interlude*

COLLEEN: So, remember when we mentioned that Angie was frugal?

SUE: A trait she learned from her parents.

ANGIE: My dad was a teacher and so, being an educator, he would have a retirement. And he always instilled in us, “Try to get a job where you will have retirement.”

COLLEEN: Now, when Angie took her job in Corporate America...

SUE: ...she knew it was likely she would not have a pension.

COLLEEN: So she carefully put much of her earnings over a 7-year period into real estate.

ANGIE: So I decided, “Well, let’s go ahead and do some rental properties,” so that would possibly be my retirement income. So I bought a couple little homes to begin with.

SUE: That was in 1995. Through the years, she bought one house and then another.

ANGIE: My love is older homes because I love to be able to buy a home that needs a lot of love and attention, paint it, put new carpet, put new linoleum and it becomes a home.

COLLEEN: Angie made it a habit to live well below her means.

ANGIE: As years went by, if it was an older home that needed a little bit of work but was, was priced right, I would go ahead and take a look and then I would purchase my next one.

SUE: By the time Angie was laid off in 2000, she had amassed at least a dozen properties.

COLLEEN: She decided not to pursue another CFO job, in a larger city like Phoenix.

ANGIE: My parents were here, my grandparents were here so I said, “No. Let me do something different.” And I said, “Well, I’ll just do my rental properties to go ahead and, and continue, you know, having some income come in.”

COLLEEN: That's when she noticed residents at two of her properties struggling to pay the bills.

ANGIE: And then that’s when I combined the utilities and rent and put it in one big lump sum so they were able to afford that.

SUE: That plan worked for a while, but soon she learned that many of her tenants struggled with addiction.

ANGIE: So what I did is the next home that I had I opened up, I created a couples home that was clean and sober.

COLLEEN: After a while she realized...

ANGIE: Maybe one of the partners is dealing with addiction, the other partner might be enabling. So in order to really help them with their addiction issues it would have to be separate homes, and so that’s when I created the women’s and then I created the first men’s home as well.

*Musical Interlude*

COLLEEN: We've been sharing the story of Angie Lozano, the founder of Angie's House, who today has committed ten of her properties in Cottonwood, Arizona, to people whose lives have not been the easiest.

ANGIE: I have cards that we hand out to individuals who are homeless and say, “Here, if you need a place to stay here you go.”

COLLEEN: So Sue, you visited Angie in Cottonwood to make a video that you can watch on our site...

SUE: www.thestoryexchange.org.

COLLEEN: So now, tell us what are some of the properties like?

SUE: Well, they're very spartan but they're clean. They have bunk beds and basic kitchen items. Angie charges $125 per week, which is well below-market rate. It's essentially rent but she calls it a "program fee" as residents must agree to stay sober and look for work, if they’re unemployed.

COLLEEN: And some of her residents are coming from prison.

ANGIE: Their counselor calls me, we talk, explain to them that it is an actual program. They will be required to look for work, and get on their feet, and be self-supporting but pretty much if they’re willing to do that it’s a go and they come to us.

SUE: Angie is quite proud of the lack of red tape.

ANGIE: It’s basically a phone call, we talk, and you’re approved to come in. And the big reason for doing that is when someone needs help they don’t need help in four weeks. They need help now.

SOT: In a situation like this it helps that, you know, you don’t feel alone, you’re not isolated.

COLLEEN: So let's talk how she makes this all work -- she's essentially running a social service agency.

SUE: Yeah -- although it is self-sustaining.

ANGIE: So the income covers a mortgage, the insurance, and the utilities.

COLLEEN: We should note here that Angie owns six other properties not affiliated with Angie's House, which contribute to her personal household income.

SUE: Right. Angie's House isn’t a money-maker, but it can cover its own costs.

ANGIE: Our longevity and our sustainability is, is huge and I foresee it continuing on, which makes me happy.

SUE: She and husband, Pedro Gonzalez, do all the repairs and maintenance.

SOT: That would have actually cost us about $75.

COLLEEN: They don't have employees -- they rely on house managers, who live rent-free, to supervise residents who are recovering from substance abuse.

SUE: And, ever the accountant, Angie also handles the books.

COLLEEN: Which isn't the easiest of tasks, as she often works out flexible arrangements with residents who can't immediately pay.

SUE: In fact, Angie was reluctant at first for us to even mention how much she charges.

ANGIE: Now should I leave the price out because we, we really accommodate, and I would hate for it to be a deterrent.

COLLEEN: What's remarkable to me is that Angie is almost an “anti-capitalist.”

SUE: Yeah, she could be making a lot more money.

COLLEEN: If she rented out these properties to residents who had stable incomes and steady jobs.

SUE: But's that not Angie. In fact, the need for housing is so big and just keeps growing that she sometimes feels overwhelmed.

ANGIE: There’s, there’s times that I do get frustrated and discouraged that there are so many people in need of help and I...it breaks my heart when I can’t help them.

SUE: For instance, she hears from more and more seniors, who really need to be in an assisted-living facility but can't afford it.

ANGIE: And those are the days when I’m like, “Gosh, if, is what I’m doing helping enough?” And then I realize it’s helping but it’s just that there’s other gaps that need to be filled.

COLLEEN: In 2016, she turned Angie's House into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, with the goal of accessing grants or donations for expanded services.

SUE: Which brings us to another challenge...as people age and retire, they can't keep up with rising rents.

SOT: I got messed up on my disability check, my money.

ANGIE: What I’m seeing with the homeless population here in Cottonwood is they’re older and that is when it’s heartbreaking because at, at 65 I don’t want to be looking for a place to stay.

*Musical Interlude*

ANGIE: I met my husband 13 years ago and he was actually helping me with my homes.

COLLEEN: We mentioned Angie's husband Pedro a short while ago. He's been an integral part of Angie's House.

ANGIE: He was, you know, a very kind person and the neat thing I loved about him was I repairing my homes as well and we complemented each other.

SOT: You’re going to have to repair the blinds.
-And then a couple of lightbulbs.
-A couple of bulbs.

SUE: Angie learned something about Pedro, after they met...

ANGIE: Pedro was homeless as a young child and as a young adult. So he gave me a huge perspective on housing for the homeless.

SUE: He told her...

ANGIE: “You know, it’s terrible out there. It’s cold, so cold that you, you can’t even believe that when you wake up in the morning you’re actually still alive because you are so stiff.”

COLLEEN: Angie had been involved with homeless organizations over the years.

SUE: And while there was always talk about building Cottonwood's first homeless shelter...

COLLEEN: ...No one ever stepped up to the plate and got it done.

ANGIE: So he and I said, “We do the homes all the time. Why don’t we just create a homeless shelter?” So we did. So we took one of our small little homes and we turned it into a homeless shelter.

SUE: It sleeps up to ten individuals and their pets.

ANGIE: We accepted the pets. The one thing that we did say was no drugs or alcohol. And for the homeless shelter, no charge.

COLLEEN: All of Angie's properties -- the shelter, the sober-living homes, the low-income housing -- accept pets.

SOT: How is Sweetie Pie, your cat? How has she adapted?
-She’s good, she’s good. Yeah, she spends a lot of time in my room. She’s not real thrilled with the dogs.

ANGIE: A lot of times, the different places that are available do not accept pets unless they’re an assistive pet. And an emotionally assistive pet does not qualify as an assistive pet, so that’s why a lot of residents come to live with me.

SUE: In fact, Angie might one day start an animal shelter.

ANGIE: My husband and I’s dream is to have a ranch where we’d be able to, to provide housing for homeless pets that are possibly older or have like some health issues where they’re really unadoptable. That’s, that’s our dream. We would love to have that.

*Musical Interlude*

COLLEEN: For now, Angie is helping as many humans as she can.

SUE: On any given night, her properties keep about 125 people off the street.

ANGIE: I do housing for individuals who are in need because they, they need it. They need someone to give them a place where they can come back, where it’s safe, and I’m real big on them feeling loved and accepted.

COLLEEN: Angie has received recognition for her work, from the local newspaper and the Sedona chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.

SUE: Above all, she wants to serve as a reminder that one person can make a difference.

ANGIE: I know that a lot of times we as people want the federal government, or the state government, city government to fix things but we forget how powerful we are. One person can make a change in the world, just one.

COLLEEN: Our thanks to Angie Lozano at Angie's House.

SUE: Join us next time to hear more stories about innovative and inspirational women doing the things you’d never dream of. Or...maybe you would. This has been The Story Exchange.

COLLEEN: If you liked this podcast, please share on social media or post a review on iTunes. It helps other people find the show. And visit our website at TheStoryExchange.org, where you’ll find news, videos and tips for women entrepreneurs. Sound editing provided by Nusha Balyan. Interview recorded by Kevin Cloutier. Executive producers are Sue Williams and Victoria Wang.

Posted: October 5, 2017

The Story ExchangeEp. 23: Community Housing