As a working mother of four, Cynthia* believes that having a safe, secure, and comfortable home where the family can all be together is critical. Unfortunately, for too many families, this is difficult to attain. Cynthia and her children used to live in a structurally unsound home with no air conditioning, no heat, and inadequate plumbing. They would turn on the oven to stay warm during the winter and take cold showers during blazing hot summers. Sewage would build up in their backyard, causing serious health risks. She also shared with the Housing Justice Coalition that the family actually trained themselves to walk around the floor’s weak spots after Cynthia’s boyfriend fell through the floor. On top of these unsafe conditions, Cynthia said she never felt a sense of security for her four kids because rent was $250 above what she was getting through cash assistance from the state and therefore her family was always at risk of being evicted.
More recently, Cynthia had the opportunity to move into public housing where she and her family feel safe and secure in their home. Their living conditions are much better and her sons each have their own bedroom, all of which adds to the family’s health and well-being. The one downside is the pressure she experiences with maintaining her home and lawn. She knows that she needs to follow strict guidelines in order to ensure that she and her family will not be kicked out. She is constantly thinking about passing inspection especially in the week that the inspections are expected to occur. “You’re always trying to make sure your house is clean, [but] what you think is clean, they may not, so there is a stress factor with living here.”
Another challenge often connected to living in public housing is the lack of nearby amenities and limited access to reliable public transit. Cynthia notes that there are no affordable grocery stores near her home and that, because she doesn’t drive, she relies on Uber/Lyft to take her places, which becomes expensive. For example, during the pandemic, Uber charged her $38.75 for a 10-minute ride. The alternative, however, would be to spend 3 hours on multiple public buses to get to Walmart where she can find affordable groceries. As a working mom, she doesn’t have that amount of time to spare. So Cynthia very carefully budgets her minimal income to afford food, transportation, cable/internet, and utilities. Throughout Stockton, “people aren’t making enough–especially single income families–to afford even a decent-sized space, so they go without what is a necessity because they’re trying to keep a roof over their head.”
Despite the stress she faces and the challenges of allocating income to basic necessities, she shares that she is very grateful for her home and that it is a huge improvement from her previous situation. She and her kids finally “feel safe and we feel comfortable where we know once we come in the door that we’re going to be ok.”
*The individual’s name has been changed to protect their privacy.