By Apollonia (Apple) Williams, UWBA Ambassador
“Every day, for 3 months, I had to look at those bullet holes and be constantly reminded that any one of my family’s lives could have ended.”
I am a mother in a family of 4 and as a UWBA Ambassador*, I get to share the experiences I live through daily. I no longer see affordable housing as a saving grace. It feels more like a stumbling block or barrier against my future and my freedom to manifest all the things I dream to do that will help my family as well as the community.
Affordability, by definition, is having a cost that is not too high. It is also the ability to pay for something with little-to-no risk of adverse consequences. When it comes to housing, the term affordable housing sounds great, but it comes with stigma and it comes at a cost, usually to a tenant’s dignity, sometimes to their safety.
For instance, adverse consequences for me came in the form of repairs not being done in a timely manner. I had continuous mold growing in the bathroom and water damage in the laundry room from a leaking roof when it rained. On one Saturday morning, the bathtub water would not drain – I was told that I would have to wait until Monday to have it addressed.
I was forced to bathe out of the sink for the weekend. But as Monday came and went, no one ever showed up to fix the issue. By Tuesday morning I called again and finally, someone came out but they brought their attitude with them. I’m often met with unfriendly, unwelcoming attitudes when trying to request repairs – that unsaid “be grateful” attitude as if we didn’t deserve the service, because we were in “affordable housing.”
The final straw came one evening in April 2021. Forty bullets flew through the neighborhood toward my unit. Five entered my home.
I thank God no one was injured. My family and I were safe mostly. For the next three days, I was in a state of shock. I should have been upset with the shooter but I wasn’t. Instead, I was disappointed with the treatment I received from the housing complex administration. No one called to see if we were okay. When I requested my shattered patio door window to be boarded up, the supervisor of maintenance said, “I don’t know what I can do to help.”
When Oakland Police came to investigate and saw the patio window boarded, one of the officers asked who had done it. They told me maintenance never comes to fix anything. It took over three months for them to finally cover the bullet holes. Every day, for three months, I had to look at those bullet holes and be constantly reminded that any one of my family’s lives could have ended.
“My son had trouble sleeping, afraid that it would happen again. That lasted for about five months.”
I lived in that unit for roughly 10 years. But when it came time to renew my lease I decided to leave. In all the years I lived there, not once had I ever experienced a shooting. On top of that, my rent was going to more than double, going from $1,099 to $3,000 as of Jan 2022.
Affordable housing should be a temporary, not permanent solution. It should allow for housing units with rent prices that remain stable and accessible long enough for those who need it to have the opportunity to save, pay off debt, and maybe even become homeowners or start businesses. This means affordable housing shouldn’t compete in the traditional housing market, at least not until policies have been updated.
Ultimately, hospitality and accountability should be at the forefront of any housing affordability effort. That is why I am a UWBA Ambassador, selecting housing organizations like Sister to Sister and Monument Impact to partner with, and serving on UWBA’s policy committee to advocate for pro-housing policies that protect tenants like me. I hope you will partner with me and with UWBA to bring Housing Justice into every single community. Because affordability is not just about the financial cost, but the opportunity to do better, to rise above, and be safe and free from the risk of adverse consequences; to live with dignity.
* Ambassadors have lived experiences with UWBA programs and/or services and now use their stories for advocacy. When you support UWBA, you’re helping to maintain an equitable platform so ambassadors like Apple can keep community voices at the center of our initiatives, like housing justice.