Chasing The Dream: When Public Housing Isn't An Option

Jun 30, 2016

In our Chasing the Dream series, WJCT looked at the thousands of Jacksonville residents on the wait list for housing vouchers, as well as as those struggling to avoid eviction from public housing.

Now, the series examines options available to people who qualify for public housing but, for one reason or another, choose to live somewhere else.

Annette Nathan is considering leaving the four-bedroom house in Northwest Jacksonville she rents with her five kids and granddaughter.

“And I do not receive public assistance at all. I’m a working mom. So everything that I do comes out my pocket, so I deserve to live some place decent,” she said.

But a livable home has been hard to find. She’s on her third house in this area after major issues and unresponsive landlords.

CHASING THE DREAM: 

“Ceiling (is) collapsing, roof needs repairing, water (is) coming in when the rain falls. That was house No. 2. And now this one has been the worst,” she said in the living room of her home.

Black mold spreading under the sink.
Credit Vince Kong / WJCT

With a broken air conditioning unit, the air inside is hot and muggy. After a pipe burst five months ago, water has continually seeped into the wall of her granddaughter’s bedroom.

“So all in here was wet, molded, and gnats and stuff was in there — maggots,” she said, pointing to the inside of the closet.   

Carpet and padding is torn up on top of yet-to-be repaired floorboards.

The situation is worse in the bathroom and kitchen, where leaks are still attracting mold and bugs under her sink and behind the wall of the shower.

Nathan said it’s all taking a toll on her granddaughter, Amari.

“She’s 2 years old. She didn’t have asthma when she was born. She didn’t have asthma until she moved here,” she said. “And I have taken her to the emergency room— me and her mom. ... Now she’s taking inhalers and wearing a mask, and at daycare she’s coughing and wheezing."

A toy clock belonging to Annette Nathan's granddaughter sits the living room of her Jacksonville home.
Credit Vince Kong / WJCT News

Nathan has withheld rent, but instead of fixing the problems right away, her landlord kept sending eviction notices. She keeps three of them in a file.

COMING UP: On Friday, we’ll meet Jacksonville people working on solutions to affordable-housing challenges as our Chasing the Dream series comes to an end.

Legal Aid attorney Jeff Haynie, who’s helping fight for the family’s rights, said the situation is typical among his clients.

Moldy carpeting in the closet of child's bedroom is worn away, exposing traces of mold on the floorboards.
Credit Vince Kong / WJCT

“I wouldn’t know that Jacksonville was two different worlds if I didn’t work here ... and see this stuff all the time. But I think a lot of people just don’t know so much of this city is in such bad shape,” Haynie said. “And so for so long, the owners of these properties, for example — there’s just no light shining on them, so why would they do anything different?”

Since Haynie got involved, Nathan said, repairs are coming, albeit slowly. In the meantime, she’s on the lookout for a better place. But with her $11.25 per hour income, her options are scarce.

“This area is full of crime. Believe me, they have gun shootings all the time — police here, police there. It’s not safe here,” she said. But, “I’m not just looking to move to another bad house, so this is where I live.”

She said her daughter — Amari’s mom — is trying to get out by signing up for public housing. She’s one of 16,000 area residents on the waiting list.

Funding for Chasing the Dream is provided by the JPB Foundation and the Ford Foundation.