Housing Lottery
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After 26 Years Of Studio Living, TL Family Is Housing Lottery Success Story.

Kam Chou, a native of Cambodia, first came to the Tenderloin in 1989. In the years since, he’s married his wife, Amy, raised their 17-year-old son, and seen their home in the Indochinese Housing Development Corporation (IHDC) building at 340 Eddy St. transition from a bustling hub for immigrant families into a quieter residence. And it’s all happened within the confines of a studio apartment, which the family also shares with Kam’s mother.

But now, the Chous are about to make a big change: they’re moving. Thanks to the city’s below-market-rate housing program, their new home will be the gleaming, brand-new complex at 1400 Mission St., where 167 families were given the opportunity to purchase condos this past summer.

It’s a big change for Kam, who grew up the midst of compounding unrest in Cambodia during the Cambodian War and under the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Living in the Cambodian countryside until 1979, remembers what it was like to grow up in a war zone. “When I was five or six years old, I’d hear the sound of the war,” he told us.

When he and his mother were forced to flee their home and cross the border into Thailand, he remember Vietnamese soldiers telling him, “Go, this is not a good place.”

“I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want any more problems,” he said.

Kam and his mother spent over three years in a refugee camp in Thailand before they obtained sponsorship to immigrate to San Francisco. Kam was only 16 at the time. Over the years, mother and son acclimated to a new life in Chinatown—until the 1989 earthquake aroused some concern for their personal safety.

“We came to live in the Tenderloin because in Chinatown, the buildings were too high—I lived on the 12th floor. At first, I couldn’t find a place to live, but a friend of mine was living here. He told me to come to the IHDC, and the manager at the time helped me to move in.”

In 1998, Kam returned to Cambodia for a visit, where he met Amy. “I went to visit my stepparents in Cambodia, who lived a block away from Amy’s house.  They told me about this very nice lady and asked if I would meet her,” says Kam.

After three months of grueling paperwork, for which the couple received the support of staff at IHDC, Amy was able to join Kam in the U.S. “It was really hard, because I didn’t know my ABCs,” said Amy. “I didn’t even know how to write.”

Despite the language barrier, the Chous were able to find work: Amy is now a housekeeper at the Hotel Vitale, while Kam works at the restaurant at the San Francisco Marriott.

Read it at Hoodline

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