June 16, 2023
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.
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. Affordability, by definition, is having a cost that is not too high that includes the ability to pay that cost with no risk of adverse consequences.
In Jan 2011 I moved into my first affordable unit and it will definitely be my last. Although my rent was cheap I still experienced adverse consequences. Those adverse consequences for me, for instance, 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 maintenance comes to repair my requested repairs – that look of I don’t need to be here, 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 but 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 more disappointed with the treatment I received from the housing complex administration. No one called to see if we were okay nor was there a letter of concern for our wellbeing. During the night of the incident, I requested my shattered patio door window to be boarded up twice, once the supervisor of maintenance came, I was greeted with “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 not to renew and leave. In all the years I lived there, not once had I ever experienced a shooting. On top of that the rental price for my unit was going to increase to $3k as of Jan 2022. My affordability agreement was to pay 30% of my income towards rent. When I first moved in Jan 2011 rental price for my unit was $1,099 and I was a single parent. No longer single. Happily married and my husband was coming into a promotion as of Jan 2022 that would increase our income to over $5k per month. You do the math.
Affordable housing should be a temporary, not permanent solution. When affordable housing is temporary it would allow the rental prices for housing units to remain at the price you moved in. In turn creating an opportunity that lasts long enough for tenants to save money, pay off debt, become homeowners, and start businesses. This means affordable housing doesn’t participate in the housing market, for the Housing Market is based upon maximizing profit and protecting private ownership.
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. That is why I serve on UWBA’s policy committee to advocate for pro-housing policies that protect tenants like me. So they would not have to go through the lack of care that I went through. 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 and 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.