“A decent, safe place to come home to, where I can give my kids a good life.” Ask any of the women I work with in Houston what they desire above anything else and that’s what they will tell you.
Unfortunately, the reality that residents of Coppertree Village Apartments (and residents in many of Houston’s dangerous apartments) is a home that puts their health at risk with moldy carpets and walls and failing electrical and plumbing systems.
Jamie, 33, has lived at Coppertree since 2012, raising three boys on her own while she works and goes to school. “It’s hard, but I have to do it for my kids. It’s just us. I have no family, so I have no options. I can’t let them down.”
Texas Housers is working to amplify stories like Jaime’s through our 12 Moms campaign. Through this campaign we launched this year, we have been educating women with children who live in subsidized homes about actions they can take to improve their living conditions and helping to develop their leadership skills so they can advocate for themselves and make change in their communities.
Our campaign is only a few months old, but already, I have witnessed many women who felt stuck and hopeless, connect with one another and speak out about their experiences to demand decent, safe, quality homes. Jamie is just one example.
Here are some of my notes from the field, with a focus on Jamie’s experience.
We’re sitting on Jamie’s patio at Coppertree Apartments, the place she hates to call home.
Jamie’s day starts by waking up in a dark, moldy, roach infested apartment in a crime-ridden neighborhood.
Often she wakes because her son, who knows how to administer his breathing equipment, starts the process. She hears the sound and rushes into his room to make sure he’s okay. Her son, Tamaj, has been diagnosed with severe asthma and a respiratory condition. Although they all suffer from asthma, he has the worst respiratory issues.
Coppertree is a project-based apartment site, which means the residents cannot take their vouchers and move to another subsidized apartment complex. The condition of the complex was already deteriorating aside from being in need of repairs and updating. And last year, the flooding of Hurricane Harvey made everything worse
“I have to get us out of here,” Jamie said. “Not just me and my boys, but all of us.”
The mold and decaying walls affect residents’ health, triggering or making respiratory illness worse, and the stress of living in such poor conditions wear on the health of everyone.
“My son has to go to the doctor so much. It’s horrible. He’s 8, so he can only relate how he feels to a certain extent. So I have to ask him, ‘DeAndre, how do you feel?’ And he shakes his head. ‘Do you feel like dirt?’ If he shakes yes, then I know it’s time to call 911 because my baby can’t breathe. He missed 14 days of school this year. Last year he missed 17.”
Jamie also wants to get away from the drug crime in the neighborhood. She points to a bullet still lodged in a car nearby.
“I don’t want my kids to feel like this is all there is in the world, that this is all there is to life. I want them to know there is more beyond this. I didn’t come here with intentions of staying here. I came here with intentions of saving money and moving on to a better place.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development continues to subsidize poor living conditions at Coppertree. Jamie and the women she has organized think that the investment the federal government is making should go toward making residents’ lives better, not making them sick. Most of them work minimum wage jobs, and housing that is making them ill is another obstacle in their efforts to get job training and find higher-paying work. The toxic stress of the dangerous apartments also prevents kids from excelling in school.
In speaking out and telling their stories, Jamie and our 12 Moms Campaign are demanding what they deserve: decent, safe, sanitary housing in areas of opportunity, in places they can thrive. That means away from Coppertree and dangerous places like it.
“I want to make sure I’m speaking out against things that aren’t right, even if I’m uncomfortable in the spotlight,” Jamie said.