Working poor need decent place to live

by | Aug 21, 2011 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

You smell it the minute you enter. An inspector said it was one of the worst cases of mold he’d ever seen. Kristy and Amando Wilson walk you to the basement, which has been flooding on and off since last year. Some kind of pipe problem, they were told. The floor is stained. There is wet, dark sewage. The odor clogs your head. You get halfway down the steps and you want to turn back.

You can. They can’t. For the Wilsons, this is home. Married nine years and raising eight children (four from an earlier marriage), they found it one of the few places they have been able to rent.

She works. He works. They raise their kids. They go to church. Heck, they lived above a church for a while. They have endured a long, winding, pack-the-bags pattern, moving in with relatives, with friends, into shelters, back to rented duplexes. They are not unique. Just a family constantly in search of a home – in a city that has more empty houses than it can count.

And now, despite a mold problem that hasn’t been addressed by the landlord, they say they’re being evicted for past due rent.

This is not a sob story. This is a Detroit story. One that repeats itself over and over, block after block, year after year.

One family’s tale of woe

“We met working at McDonald’s,” Kristy recalled. Amando was a manager. Kristy was on the crew. They married five years later. As newlyweds, they lived with an aunt for six months. Then they rented a duplex with three other families. After that, Kristy got sick with kidney and bladder issues, and Amando had to take care of the kids. Money got tight “and we got put out,” Kristy said.

They landed in a Salvation Army shelter.

They lived there – as a married couple – until qualifying for a program that led to an apartment. That lasted two years. After that, times got tough again. They wound up living in a space atop Landmark Temple of Deliverance on Linwood, with all their kids, they said, for nearly a year before bouncing to friends’ and relatives’ houses.

Imagine all this time trying to keep your children in school, trying to hold a job, trying to keep track of your possessions. Eventually, they saved up $700, which they gave to a man to let them move into a house which he said he would rent them for $500 a month.

“He gave us the keys,” Kristy recalled. “That same day, we found out he didn’t own the house. And he ran with our money.”

That led them to their current house in Detroit, the one with a sewage and mold problem no human should have to endure. For this, they say, they pay $650 a month. Yet because they are behind on the rent, they’re being evicted next week. My efforts to reach the landlord were unsuccessful, but who would take this place after them?

There needs to be a solution

There has to be a better way than this. Cynics might say, “Why have all those kids?” But no one says that to rich families.

Cynics might say, “Get a job.” The Wilsons have. She works in a nursing home. He works for an alarm company. Neither can get full-time hours. But they are out there trying.

Kristy and Amando have not given up. They’ve stayed married at a time when vows are disregarded. They go to work without a car, relying on buses or cheap taxis. They tell their children, “Things will get better.”

I’m not saying the Wilsons are perfect. They have had issues like all of us.

But somewhere in this city there must be a place for them. And for other working families who are trying to make it. You hear constantly about houses in Detroit that can’t sell, that they’re giving away, that banks reluctantly take over.

A glut of buildings and an overdose of poverty should make matching needy families with places to live a lemons-to-lemonade situation. I know Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries is trying to help the Wilsons.

Because no American family should have to live with the smell and health hazards of their mold-infested basement. To have that potential poison near all those children is beyond tragic, it’s just plain wrong. And it cries out for action.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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