Women on brink of homelessness get rent-free apartments
4 women get rent-free apartments in Lawndale amid pandemic
A smiling Latoya Evans walked quickly through the neatly decorated West Side apartment to claim which of the two bedrooms would be hers.
“This is more than enough for me,” Evans said.
Evans, 38, and her roommate, Mary Jenkins, will live rent-free for at least a year in a Lawndale greystone in the 1500 block of South Millard Avenue. Two other units in the building also will be occupied rent-free by people who, like Evans and Jenkins, are on the cusp of homelessness. The effort was led by Candice Payne, who teamed up with A Safe Haven. Evans met Jenkins through the organization.
Payne, a real estate developer, started to work with the homeless community during last year’s polar vortex when she rented hotel rooms for those who were living outdoors as temperatures dropped to dangerous levels. She remembers sitting in a hotel room, thinking she needed to find a more permanent solution than hotel rooms. Her efforts went viral, landing her on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
“From that good deed, basically, we are here today,” Payne said Friday.
In June 2019, Payne purchased the Lawndale property. She fixed up the building, using money she was able to raise after her story went viral. She set three of the six units aside for people who wouldn’t have to pay rent. Those tenants, however, like others in the greystone, will have to pay for their own utilities during the year.
Payne sees the apartments as a stepping stone for people struggling to gain financial stability. She worked with A Safe Haven to find tenants because the organization already had existing programs helping those with housing instability.
Cintamani Carter, 35, started participating in A Safe Haven programs about seven months ago. After struggling for years to find permanent housing, she’ll live in one of the apartments with her 6-year-old son, Cintano Carter.
“My son was super excited. He was like, ‘Is this our apartment?’ ” said Carter, who hopes to save up to buy her own car to drive to work. “We both [were] truly happy when we first got here.”
Payne met one of the now-residents, Montrea Jackson, when she went to her South Loop office building to pick up things during the stay-at-home order. She came across Jackson, 18, sleeping in the conference room.
Jackson said she was bouncing around friends’ homes, paying for hotel rooms when she could and, for about a week, lived out of the conference room with the permission of her boss. Her 1-year-old son sometimes stayed with his father while she tried to find a place to stay.
“Being a mother and homeless is so hard,” Jackson said as she teared up. “Trying to fend for your child, trying to put food in one refrigerator so it’s all there. It took me so much strength. And I pray to God every day, and God sent this angel down to me to help me.”
She recently went grocery shopping to stock up the refrigerator in her new apartment, which is the first apartment she’s ever had on her own. She’s working on getting her GED and is trying to find a betterpaying job. Her goal is to become a cosmetologist and open her own business.
“I have to live for my own,” Jackson said.
Latoya Evans, 38, walks into her new apartment in the Lawndale neighborhood. She and her roommate, Mary Jenkins, will live rent-free in the two-bedroom apartment for at least a year.