Sunday, November 9, 2014

Being Property of Public Housing

June 10th of this year, my family signed a lease with a larger public housing complex.  We were ecstatic.  We have almost double the square footage of our old apartment.  There is a laundry room.  Our daughter has her own bedroom.  We proudly scrub the toilet in our second (partial) bathroom. There is a privacy partition between our half of the back patio and our neighbors.  There are downsides (we lost central air), but overall we love it!

After signing an afternoon's worth of paperwork, we were handed keys.  We went to the apartment and walked around it's empty halls.  We put a potted plant in the window and left the weekend to pack and round up moving help. 

It was a dastardly chore, but we moved in in 2 days flat.  Justin returned to work and I was left with a special needs child and an infant to care for while unpacking.  I managed to fully put away 2-3 boxes each day.  Justin came home on the weekend and we put a dent in the unpacking, but it was hard to tell.  We have A LOT of stuff.

One day we got a notice in the mail that let us know that in 3 days they would be conducting our yearly inspection (If you didn't know, apartments in public housing systems are carefully inspected for functionality and cleanliness once each year.  If you don't pass, you get kicked out.)    Having JUST moved in, we laughed it off.  Surely they'd understand that we had just moved in and that there would still be boxes in some rooms.  We'd only been in the place for 10 days!


We were given 14 days to completely unpack otherwise we would be served with an eviction warning.  I explained that we had vacation plans (my mother was paying our way to visit the historical sites of Gettysburgh for a week) and would not be gone for 10 of those 14 days.  They encouraged us to get as much done as we could.

We worked around the clock flattening boxes, installing shelving, assembling furniture... but still failed the inspection.  There were still some boxes sitting unpacked in our closets and our back door didn't have a curtain.  Complete bullshit! 

They returned in July and we finally passed.  However, it didn't end there.

Sixteen days later, we received a notice that the state department would be making the rounds in September and that they didn't know which apartments would be picked, but that one apartment in each building would be toured and scrutinized by this state team.  

To this day I believe that they ABSOLUTELY knew our apartment was on the chopping block.  While our neighbors were made to wash their windows and clean up their gardens, the ceiling of my storage unit was repainted.  While our neighbors were told to make sure their porch lights had working bulbs, maintenance was checking the tightness of the seal on my refrigerator.  Our apartment was getting grass seed and practice inspections while our neighbors watched to see what the fuss was about.

The day before inspection three of the smoke alarms begin beeping their low battery chirp at 3am.  The baby woke up and I ripped all of them off the ceiling.  It took me an hour to get her back to sleep.  Not only did I have no ride to the store (Justin had our car for work), but I had no money to buy 9volt batteries.  I texted Justin my predicament and he said that he'll come home early Thursday morning and I can run out and get the batteries before the state inspectors came through.

We had a plan.

Wednesday, just to be sure we passed because of all the trouble we'd had in the past, I tore apart two closets to re-organize them.  I was soaking the drip-pans from the stovetop and had a stack of items ready to be put into storage that evening after the baby was asleep so that I didn't have to worry about her crying when I left the room or wandering underfoot while I moved heavy things.  I had all sorts of deep cleaning projects in motion when there was a knock on the door. 

A maintenance man stood there,  "The state is here to inspect your apartment."

I had flaked!  I was a day off (problems of a SAHM).  I told him that and pleaded that if there was any way to choose a different apartment, that would be best.  He went back to the brood of inspectors and I shut the door.  I went into a flurry of activity trying to think of which of my projects needed the most attention first.

Suddenly, my front door opened and five people stepped into my home.  Five people that I had asked not to come in.  Five people that looked around at the baby toys on the floor and the decorations on my walls and LAUGHED.

They spent the next 15 minutes opening cabinets, stepping on my things, making derogatory comments about my "animal-like" children, pulling my son's pillows off of his bed, ripping my daughters decorations off of her door, touching things on my desk, and generally invading my home.

They broke my spoon rest.

They lectured me about the dead batteries in the smoke detectors, even telling me that no money and no car were no excuse.

They didn't like the way my dryer was attached so they opened my dryer door to stop the machine (instead of pressing the stop button!).  Clean laundry spilled out and was stepped on.  They left it that way.

I was lectured for not having had my closet doors open and ready for the inspection.

I was yelled at for my fiance not being home to watch my daughter so that I could accompany them through the apartment.

They made me lift and move (by myself!) a 300lb piece of furniture so that they could look behind it. 

The property manager scolded me like a child in front of everyone for not managing my time well.  

They said nothing before stepping outside.  I sat on my couch holding my daughter,  uncertain if they were done.  As I sat there, my breathing grew rougher.  I started to hyperventilate, my fingertips and ears tingling and numb.  I put my head between my legs and started to bawl.  My hands were shaking as I tried to text Justin and tell him what was going on.  I heard a noise outside and jumped.  The idea of them coming back in terrified me.  And I had no idea if they were done.  

I phoned a friend to come sit with me at the house.  There was little she could do.  I was hysterical.  It felt like I'd been raped.  My home had been invaded by people who broke my things, laughed at me, judged me and left.  Justin called off work for the night and drove up to stay the night with me.  I was a wreck all night.  I kept waking up to check the doors and make sure they were locked.

Since that day, maintenance as "accidentally" walked into my home on three separate occasions.  This last time, I told the man that it was not a good time and that it was unneeded for him to come into my home.  He returned with his supervisor and they insisted on coming in.  They came back three more times that week... always for something ridiculous and never for anything I've reported.

A month went by before I heard anything about the outcome of the state inspection.  We got a letter telling us that by not having batteries in three smoke detectors we had put the lives of everyone in the building at risk.  We were given a second warning for eviction.

I called and told the property manager, the same woman who had scolded and judged me, that I was unwilling to report other maintenance issues in the apartment because I felt unsafe and didn't want those men back in my apartment.  She told me that we'd receive a third and final eviction warning if I failed to report something wrong with the apartment.  Lots of love from this lady, I tell you.

I guess I tell you this story to emphasize that public housing is really just a place to shelve families in poverty.  It is not "yours".  You can't plant a flower.  You can't hang pictures without permission.  You can't have a pet without orders from your doctor.  And you can't tell employees not to enter your apartment.

These are not homes.  I do not feel safe here.

{ Stacey }

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