Women on brink of home­less­ness get rent-free apart­ments

4 women get rent-free apart­ments in Lawn­dale amid pan­demic

Chicago Sun-Times - - CHICAGO SUN TIMES - BY ELVIA MALAGÓN,

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.

ELVIA MALAGÓN/SUN-TIMES

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.

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