In our series on poverty and housing, Chasing the Dream, we’re hearing from Jacksonville residents struggling to keep decent roofs over their heads.
This segment explores how living in public housing comes with rules and the constant threat of eviction for breaking them.
On a Friday afternoon, Kira Deloach is walking into her apartment at Mandarin Trace.
“It’s kind of messy. ... I have all these boxes, trying to move,” said Deloach while opening her front door.
She and her son’s father, Daniel Johnson, are stepping over boxes scattered on the floor. In three days, she’s moving out.
READ PART 1: In Part 1 of the series, finb out how a family received stability through a housing voucher, while thousands of others end up in federally subsidized housing.
Deloach and other residents here pay a portion of their rent based on income, but since she doesn’t have a job, her piece is free. But that’s about to end.
She says her landlord is essentially forcing her out by claiming she’s allowing Johnson to live here. When someone lives at a Section 8 subsidized complex like Deloach’s place, having another adult tenant move in is a big no-no. Deloach insists he lives somewhere else.
“He just helps me every day with my kids,” she said.
It’s her word against the landlord’s. She was given a month to leave on her own or get evicted. So she signed a letter agreeing to leave within 30 days.
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid attorney Katherine Hanson said that’s not surprising.
“Tenants that are in section 8 are terrified about losing their subsidy because if they get evicted that's five years they know that they are going to be essentially homeless,” Hanson said.
And, Hanson says, that’s despite the notoriously bad living conditions at Section 8 complexes. Deloach says she’s lucky to live in a nice, clean place, but mold, gas leaks and disrepair at the Eureka Gardens complex on the city’s Westside have made lots of headlines recently.
“There are many complexes in Jacksonville that are like (Eureka Gardens)," she said, "and the fact that we are focusing on, ‘We’ve got to fix Eureka Gardens; how terrible is this; look at all these sad stories.’
"That is the story of North and West Jacksonville. That is the story of Jacksonville.”
Fellow Legal Aid attorney Jeff Haynie said he sees clients like Deloach all the time — clients who feel they have to leave with no idea where they’ll end up. Typically, they’re a relatively, young single mother.
“It is often because there is an allegation that her child's father was on the property and did this or that or had a small amount of marijuana or something like that,” he said.
When Deloach was asked why she has to use income-based housing, she responded “because I'm poor.”
Deloach has two kids: ages 7 and 3. She had her first child at 16 and then finished high school.
After living in this apartment for four years, she’s moving into her first non-subsidized place.
“I do have to pay full rent because with these apartments — any public housing — you have to wait on a waiting list,” she said.
'Feel Like I'm In A Prison'
She said her landlord unfairly singled her out.
“All day I get letters from her, saying I have someone living here and that I can’t have friends come over,” Deloach said.
A security camera faces Deloach’s car outside her apartment. She wondered if her landlord was watching her, trying to get her out. She said she called to complain to her complex’s owner.
“It’s like they take their side,” she said. “They don’t try to help the tenants out at all. I just feel like I’m in a prison, like there’s nothing that I can do or no help that I can get from anyone.”
UP NEXT: Our Chasing the Dream series continues Thursday with a look at the last-resort housing many families face when subsidized housing isn’t an option.
The attorneys say that feeling of helplessness is pretty common. One client was threatened with eviction for saying a curse word on the property.
Hanson says many won’t complain if they feel harassed.
“They’re not always willing to do that because they’re afraid of retaliation or that they won’t be believed,” Hanson said.
Deloach said she’s been out of work for a few months, but she’ll have to find something soon to pay for her new place.
Funding for Chasing the Dream is provided by the J-P-B Foundation and the Ford Foundation.