What can hap­pen when your rent goes up and you can’t pay

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARIA LA GANGA news­room@ida­hostates­man.com

Traci Foy sat on the con­crete steps of the white clap­board apart­ment build­ing she had called home for the past three years. It was Aug. 3, early evening, still sunny and in the high 80s. She cra­dled her tiny dog in her arms. And she wept.

Be­cause on this night, she and Aa­jyn — her doc­tor-pre­scribed, Chi­huahua-pug “com­fort com­pan­ion” — were home­less. The rent on her one-bed­room North End apart­ment had risen dur­ing her ten­ancy from $575 to $750, and she just couldn’t af­ford it any longer.

So when Lawrence Shapiro and Anna Webb rounded the cor­ner of 6th and Hays streets with Coco the pit­bull, Foy called out in des­per­a­tion. She knew them from the neigh­bor­hood. She needed help.

“I cried,” she re­counted, “and I said, ‘Can you please take care of my dog? I don’t want to take him down there.’ He’s happy-go-lucky. I didn’t want to ruin that.”

“Down there” is a Boise home­less shel­ter called In­ter­faith Sanc­tu­ary, where Foy has lived since mid-au­gust in a dor­mi­tory with a score of other women. Be­ing in the shel­ter, she said, would

“break Aa­jyn’s heart . ... He didn’t ask to be home­less. Nei­ther did I. But he depends on me.”

Foy is 56 years old, dis­abled and lives on a fixed in­come, which places her among the most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents of this fast-grow­ing and in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive met­ro­pol­i­tan area. Th­ese are the peo­ple who bear the heav­i­est bur­den from the Trea­sure Val­ley’s hous­ing short­age, which has caused rents to rise and the sup­ply of in­ex­pen­sive apart­ments to all but dry up..


No sta­tis­tics re­port how many lo­cal or state res­i­dents fall into home­less­ness be­cause they can no longer af­ford to rent. The Idaho Food Bank’s part­ner agen­cies are see­ing an in­crease in “new fam­i­lies,” said Mor­gan Wil­son, the food bank’s chief de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer, and “hear­ing sto­ries of peo­ple who have been dis­placed from hous­ing.”

Boise apart­ment rents have jumped 4 per­cent in the past year, with stu­dios av­er­ag­ing $770 a month and one-bed­room apart­ments $899, ac­cord­ing to Rent­cafe, a na­tional list­ing ser­vice.

The va­cancy rate for af­ford­able hous­ing in Ada County hov­ers at around 0.4 per­cent, said Erik Kingston, hous­ing re­sources co­or­di­na­tor for the Idaho Hous­ing and Fi­nance As­so­ci­a­tion, or IHFA. He said Idaho has a gap of about 80,000 units statewide for homes that its low­est-in­come res­i­dents can af­ford to rent.

Kingston runs his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s hous­ing hot­line, which means he has talked to more than 30,000 peo­ple over the last 20 years. At a hous­ing meet­ing con­vened by the Cathe­dral of the Rock­ies in Septem­ber, he de­scribed the in­creas­ing pain that women and men like Foy ex­pe­ri­ence in the Trea­sure Val­ley’s tight real es­tate mar­ket.

“I’m hear­ing an in­creas­ing amount of de­spair in the voices that I talk to, peo­ple that are los­ing their hous­ing, they’ve got nowhere to go, some of them are se­niors,” he said, speak­ing for him­self, not the IHFA. “The last six to 12 months is the first time in 20 years that I’ve heard peo­ple talk about sui­cide.”

Th­ese days, Kingston’s email sig­na­ture car­ries a stark re­minder to at-risk Ida­hoans scram­bling for a place to live: “It’s im­por­tant to know you aren’t alone and help is avail­able. Al­though they don’t of­fer hous­ing as­sis­tance, the Idaho Sui­cide Preven­tion Hot­line is an op­tion if you or some­one you know is in cri­sis.”

Some­one, for ex­am­ple, such as Foy, a for­mer cer­ti­fied nurs­ing as­sis­tant, for whom sta­bil­ity depends on three key fac­tors: Med­i­ca­tion to ad­dress her ma­jor de­pres­sive dis­or­der, chronic anx­i­ety, back pain and fi­bromyal­gia. A roof over her head. And Aa­jyn, 10 pounds of furry so­lace.

Th­ese days, she lives with­out two out of three. “It’s hell,” she said.


It’s early Septem­ber.

A month has passed since Shapiro took Aa­jyn in. Foy couch-surfed for the first two weeks, be­fore find­ing a bed at Sanc­tu­ary. She has not seen Aa­jyn since Aug. 3. She fears that vis­it­ing her dog and leav­ing him again will harm the crea­ture she loves the most. But Aa­jyn is not the only one with sepa­ra­tion anx­i­ety.

Foy stands in the hot sun in front of her for­mer apart­ment build­ing. Her shiny sil­ver hair hangs in a wa­ter­fall to her waist. Her face is flushed, and her voice rises in dis­tress as she talks about try­ing to live on a $936 dis­abil­ity pay­ment and $142 in food stamps each month.

She man­aged pretty well be­fore her rent

spiked. Books and clothes came from the Idaho Youth Ranch thrift store. Trans­porta­tion was her pur­ple bi­cy­cle, a gift from a for­mer neigh­bor, and the Trea­sure Val­ley’s ane­mic bus sys­tem. Aa­jyn got his an­nual shots at re­duced cost from Zam­zow’s vac­ci­na­tion clin­ics.

Their days were sim­ple and mostly re­volved around walk­ing Aa­jyn, nap­ping, doc­tor ap­point­ments and Foy’s weekly ther­apy ses­sion at Ac­cess Be­hav­ioral Health Ser­vices.

Then in Fe­bru­ary, her land­lady raised the rent to $750, aka 80 per­cent of Foy’s monthly in­come. Af­ter three months of strug­gling to make the rent and pay her bills, she started look­ing for a new place to live. By Au­gust, she couldn’t af­ford her home any longer, but she still hadn’t found an­other one.

“I am on dis­abil­ity due to my men­tal sta­tus and my aches and pains,” she said, tears welling be­hind her sun­glasses. “But I had my dog. I can’t talk about my dog. He has to stay with other peo­ple, and

I’m in a shel­ter now.”

She pauses, be­gins cry­ing in earnest. “I don’t know how she could dis­place us like that. It’s just cruel . ... I’m not ask­ing for much. I just wish I could find a place so I could have Aa­jyn. He helps me get out of bed and not think of sui­cide.”


A week later, that re­solve cracked. It was Sept. 13, and Shapiro drove Foy over to the stor­age unit where nearly ev­ery­thing she owned was crammed into 100 square feet: cloth­ing; bed­ding; a sofa; a wed­ding pic­ture of her sis­ter, Dana, who was killed in 1994, when a semi-truck slammed into her mo­tor­cy­cle.

The mer­cury had pushed past the 90-de­gree mark. Foy had run out of lo­razepam, the anti-anx­i­ety drug that calmed her and helped her sleep. She was over­heated, over­tired, sad.

“We’d been work­ing there for an hour, pulling stuff out of boxes,” re­called Shapiro, who has be­come some­thing of a guardian an­gel for Aa­jyn’s mother. “She sat down on the ground and said, ‘I need to see my dog.’ ”

Six weeks with­out her com­fort com­pan­ion “is a long time for her,” Shapiro said. Aa­jyn was born on Nov. 27, 2010. He and

Foy had been to­gether since Feb. 4, 2011.

Aa­jyn was 9 weeks old at the time. Foy had stopped drink­ing ex­actly 10 months ear­lier. By the time Foy was priced out of her North End apart­ment and handed Aa­jyn over to Shapiro and Webb, the strug­gling woman and the tiny dog had been to­gether nearly all of his life.

And he’d sup­ported her through al­most all of her hard-won so­bri­ety.

The first 44 years of Foy’s life were tough enough. Her abu­sive, bipo­lar mother kicked her out of the house when Foy was 13. She lived on the streets for two years, got her first job at age 15 work­ing at a Hot Dog on a Stick fran­chise in Santa Mon­ica, Cal­i­for­nia. Her mother died when Foy was 30; her sis­ter, when Foy was 32. She be­came a sin­gle mom that same year.

But things took a turn for the worse in 2006, when she mar­ried the man she now calls “It,” who beat her on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Dur­ing the most se­vere as­sault, he punched her in the head so hard that her vision was blurred for weeks and she even­tu­ally de­vel­oped a trauma-re­lated cataract in her left eye.

She left him a year later, be­cause “every time he hit me, I loved him less. I hated him. I wished I would have died. I slept with a butcher knife un­der my pil­low. If he was gonna touch me one more time, I was gonna cut him up. I didn’t care at that time.”

Foy had been drink­ing heav­ily to dull four decades of pain. On time off from her job as a nurs­ing as­sis­tant, she would hole up with cig­a­rettes and drink a box of cheap wine a day. By 2008, she was liv­ing in a mo­tel.

One night, when she was about to em­bark on her sec­ond box of wine in less than 24 hours, Foy de­cided she wanted to kill her­self. She picked up the phone to dial 411; maybe the sui­cide hot­line could help. Drunk, she di­aled 911 in­stead. The po­lice came.

For the next cou­ple of years, she bounced from psych ward to state hospi­tal to re­hab to a half­way house. She could no longer work be­cause of her phys­i­cal and men­tal ail­ments.

In 2010 she got sober. In 2011 she got an apart­ment and Aa­jyn came into her life. In 2014, her build­ing sold, her rent spiked and she was home­less for five months. Aa­jyn came with her to the shel­ter that time.


It is a Sun­day af­ter­noon in late Septem­ber. Foy is in a study room on the sec­ond floor of Boise’s main li­brary. She has checked out a lap­top. She is about to em­bark on the ac­tiv­ity that fills most of her days: apart­ment hunt­ing.

It is not easy. She does not have an email ac­count. Her com­puter skills are rudi­men­tary. She does not know what cook­ies are. She keeps reach­ing for a mouse that does not ex­ist. Even with the free pair of glasses she got from the Lions Club, she leans in close to the com­puter screen and squints.the Ge­ico gecko pops up, and she laughs. An­other ad flashes on the screen, and she reads aloud, “‘Sup­port Hur­ri­cane Florence re­lief ef­forts.’ ” She snorts. “I can’t sup­port my­self, are you kid­ding me? OK, let’s do cheap apart­ments in Buh-buh-buh-boise . ... Oh, I don’t want this Chrome crap. I’m still right here. What hap­pened? ... Cheap apart­ments in Boise, Idaho, Idaho, all right, let’s rip and roar here and see what we get.”

On this day, there’s al­most noth­ing for less than $1,000 a month, far out of Foy’s price range. Nampa keeps pop­ping up, but it’s too far from her doc­tors and her case man­agers, and buses are hard to come by, and her main mode of trans­porta­tion is that pur­ple bike.

Af­ter an hour or so, she has found one pos­si­bil­ity. She takes down the num­ber and plans to call on Mon­day. She is tired and frus­trated.

This is what it’s like to be poor and priced out of your home.


Halloween rolls around. With the help of a case­worker, Foy has filled out all the pa­per­work for a unit at Mal­lard Pointe, a 55-plus com­plex in Gar­den City. She re­cently learned that she is No. 1 on the wait­ing list, and three stu­dio apart­ments should come avail­able there in a few weeks.

She is ly­ing on the sofa in the small house Shapiro shares with a friend. Aa­jyn scam­pers around the liv­ing room. She has been home­less for nearly three months, and it weighs heav­ily on her tired shoul­ders.

Foy’s world has nar­rowed to just two things, and she says them over and over again: “It’s apart­ment, Aa­jyn, apart­ment, Aa­jyn, apart­ment, Aa­jyn.”

She sorts through her back­pack. She needs a cig­a­rette. She doesn’t want to leave her dog. But she has to get back to the shel­ter.

“I can’t stay there any more,” she says. “It’s suck­ing me up. You lose your in­side stuff. You lose your soul. You lose your smile.”

KATHER­INE JONES kjones@ida­hostates­man.com

Traci Foy lived in this one-bed­room North End apart­ment for more than three years. But when her rent went from $575 to $750 a month, she could no longer af­ford to live there on her $936 monthly dis­abil­ity pay­ment. “That’s just wrong,” Foy said.

PHO­TOS BY KATHER­INE JONES kjones@ida­hostates­man.com

Rid­ing her pur­ple bi­cy­cle, her pri­mary method of trans­porta­tion, Traci Foy heads to the In­ter­faith Sanc­tu­ary home­less shel­ter in down­town Boise, where Foy has lived since mid-au­gust in a dor­mi­tory with other women.

For Traci Foy, the hard­est thing about be­ing home­less is be­ing separated from Aa­jyn, her doc­tor-pre­scribed “com­fort com­pan­ion.” “He didn’t ask to be­come home­less,” Foy said. Aa­jyn is stay­ing with Lawrence Shapiro, right, who has be­come friends with Foy.

Traci Foy, who be­came home­less when her rent spiked, spends many af­ter­noons at the Down­town Boise pub­lic li­brary search­ing for apart­ment list­ings. There are few she can af­ford and that are near pub­lic trans­porta­tion, doc­tors and case man­agers. Foy — 56, dis­abled and liv­ing on a fixed in­come — is among the the area’s most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents.

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