Irvine Community Land Trust’s “Stories from Home” Continues with Inspiring Story of Cail Cheng

I was elected to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT) in 2018, guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Like all Irvine Community Land Trust Board Members, I serve as a volunteer, without compensation. 

We build high-quality affordable rental, ownership and special needs housing for the benefit of income-eligible families. Located in the heart of Southern California’s one of the most expensive real estate markets, there is a tremendous need for affordable housing.

From time to time, ICLT Executive Director Mark Asturias shares a story about our residents.  Here is his latest of our “Stories from Home”:

Cail Cheng

I’m very happy to present the return of the Irvine Community Land Trust’s “Stories from Home” series, where we highlight some of our communities’ exceptional residents, who all make Irvine a better place in their own ways.

This time, we’re featuring Cail Cheng, 27, a former Alegre resident who recently moved out. You may wonder why we’re highlighting a former resident, but Cheng has a truly remarkable story of growth during the few years he spent with us.

At first glance, Cheng seems like anyone else his age – he’s kind, diligent and loves art, photography and video games. But his path through life has been far more challenging than most. Cheng lives with a developmental disability. Five years ago, he wasn’t employed and had experienced very limited independence in his life. Though he has never been very verbal, his mother – June McLaughlin – heard his inner voice loud and clear: he wanted to live his own life.

Right around this time, the ICLT was finishing work on Alegre, one of our first affordable communities. Like our other properties, Alegre included certain units set aside for people living with developmental disabilities. ICLT was offering an affordable cost for a two-bedroom unit with a roommate, ideally meant to serve as a stepping stone for residents to later transition into complete independence. We put out a call for initial residents to apply, and McLaughlin was listening.

When McLaughlin heard about the opportunity and told her son, she saw a fire light up in Cheng’s eyes like nothing she had ever seen. He was still mostly silent, but there was a newfound focus – a quiet determination to grab the reins of his life for himself.

For roughly half of his stay with us, Cheng worked tirelessly to find steady employment, undergoing training that readied him for what the world would expect from him. Two years in, his diligence paid off through a job with Goodwill, where he continues to work to this day.

Just last year, McLaughlin realized that her son had turned a corner. He was much more responsible than he ever had been and was legitimately happy at his job. His time at Alegre had readied him for the next big step – fully independent living in a market rate apartment in the City of Irvine.

Earlier this year, Cheng left our community and moved into the San Mateo Apartments, where he now lives a proud, independent life. Over the course of five years, McLaughlin has seen him grow from a messy boy living at home to a self-made man capable of juggling all his bills and other responsibilities. “It’s been a privilege. I’m grateful for him as a son, to be part of his story,” McLaughlin said. “It’s an honor to be his mom.”

We’re honored, too. It gives us significant pride to have been able to – quite literally – open a door for Cheng as he hungered for new challenges that would help him grow. The fact that he’s moved on means that we’ve played our part, and we wish him the best of luck in his new, independent life!

Mark Asturias
Executive Director, Irvine Community Land Trust

Thank you to everyone who has helped the Irvine Community Land Trust continue to succeed in its mission of helping people like Cail Cheng and many others.

As Mark Asturias said, it’s an honor to be a positive force in so many people’s lives.

Watch a video on the Irvine Community Land Trust here: