A Philadelphia mother’s struggle to find affordable housing or help as she faces eviction

Kimberly Clark has lived in the same house in Southwest Philadelphia, on the same block, with some of the same neighbors for 24 years.

“This block is actually a pretty block,” Clark said. “Everyone has known me since I was little.”

Clark’s elderly aunt, daughter and grandchildren live across the street. His mother lives nearby. “We have a small little family, but we always try to stick together,” she said.

But on April 1, that will change.

His long-time rental, three-bed, one-bath apartment on a bordered block with pretty pink cherry blossoms has been sold. After a year of rigmarole, says Clark, the the new owners want it out in early April. Thus, Clark launched his journey into public housing assistance for the first time in his adult life.

In January, she applied for a subsidized housing program administered by the Philadelphia Asset & Property Management Corporation, or PAPMC. But it could take years to get help.

That same month, Nearly 37,000 people applied for housing vouchers, better known as Section 8s, through the Philadelphia Housing Authority lottery, which opened for the first time in more than a decade. While 2,000 applicants may be processed immediately, another 8,000 could wait up to five years to get a voucher, and the rest could end up with nothing.

The wait times for Clark and others underscore the difficulties some applicants for subsidized housing face, and the vast gap between the need for help and what is available.

“We are still in crisis mode,” said PHA spokeswoman Nichole Tillman.

Clark was hoping to get a voucher, but he inadvertently applied for a different program called Tax Credit Sites. Designed for low-income renters, the program uses factors such as an individual’s income and household size to cap rents at 22 Philadelphia sites owned by investors who receive federal tax credits. Eligibility varies from site to site, said Jenna Collins of Community Legal Services, and wait times for homes can range from months to years.

The last time the city opened the voucher lottery, it amassed a list of more than 100,000 applicants that took more than 10 years to clear.

Amid what advocates have called an affordable housing crisis, families like Clark’s are at stake. She has weeks, not years, before it’s too late. “I don’t know what to do,” Clark said through tears.

A quarter of Philadelphia households, or more than 350,000 residents, fall below the poverty line – and it can be difficult to find help even for those who qualify. Many landlords will not accept grants.

“My son and I have to go to a shelter? I’ve never had to live like this in my life and my daughter hasn’t had to live like this and it’s like I’m cheating on my son,” Clark said. “I don’t know what else to do but call on the Lord.”

Stable housing suddenly threatened

Clark, 50, has lived in Philadelphia all his life. After working since she was 14, Clark said, she injured her back in a garment manufacturing job and required surgery about a decade ago.

She has since collected Social Security disability benefits, which now total about $1,200 a month, Clark said.

Her income was enough for her rent of $500 a month, a rate she says she paid for many years. Clark’s previous owner was a family acquaintance. So when he called her to tell her he was selling the property, she was shocked. It was November 2021, just as she was being wheeled into the operating room for knee surgery.

“He said, ‘I’m going to try to keep you in there,’ Clark recounted. ‘Tears just started streaming down my face.’ Worried nurses tried to calm her down, thinking she was anxious at About surgery.

“But I just think, like, oh my God. What will happen?”

The property was purchased by A&K Acquisitions LLC, according to property records. Clark met the owners at the start 2022 and started down a confusing path to a possible threatened deportation, she said.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority office headquarters on Ridge Avenue..Learn moreTOM GRALISH / Staff photographer

After months of contacting lawyers, going to court and praying, Clark was told by a friend that PHA was reopening its Section 8 listing for the first time in years. After the website crashed due to high demand, Clark submitted an application, but for the wrong housing program.

She hoped to join the 19,500 households currently using PHA coupons. Vouchers cover about 70% of rental costs, and households must earn less than 50% of the region’s median income to qualify.

Clark’s main focus is his child. Her son is in eighth grade at Boys’ Latin Charter Middle School in West Philadelphia, and she can’t talk about him without her voice filling with pride or, given their situation, choking with tears.

READ MORE: Nearly 37,000 people have applied for PHA housing vouchers. Only 10,000 will be put on the waiting list this round.

“He does very well in math,” she boasts. “He got all the A’s and two B’s and one C’s and he really likes it. It gets him out. »

Now forced to move, she hopes to stay near her son’s middle school and nearby Boys’ Latin Charter High School. Clark said she doesn’t drive and doesn’t have a car.

The average three-bedroom rental in Philadelphia was $1,650 in 2022 — more than Clark can afford.

“I just do my best,” Clark said. “[My son is] do well. I don’t want to cheat on him in his life.

Taking advantage of ‘much more common’ tenants than people know

Once a beautiful, well-maintained property, Clark said, her apartment had fallen in poor condition during its residence of more than two decades. He now has eight open violations with the Department of Licensing and Inspections, according to city records.

That would normally be grounds for stopping an eviction, said Karla Cruel, acting director of the Tenant Union Representative Network of Philadelphia, or TURN. But she said many tenants are exploited and without knowing it waive their rights.

There is usually only one lawyer on hand in court to represent tenants facing eviction, and Cruel said he can only help. about five customers a day. This leave the others by them selves to interact with the owners’ lawyers. There’s not enough oversight to ensure tenants are treated fairly, or even legally, Cruel said.

According to TURN and Clark’s records, she unknowingly got involved with her new landlord’s attorney and appears to have unwittingly given up certain rights that would protect her from eviction.

“Kimberly’s experience is probably a lot more common than most people realize,” said Cruel, whose organization connects at-risk tenants with lawyers, especially before eviction hearings. Clark asked them for help before, during and after his housing drama.

“If you want to stop eviction,” Cruel said, “stop letting landlords’ attorneys negotiate with tenants without third-party oversight.”

A lawyer for A&K Acquisitions did not return requests for comment.

Philadelphia has some of the most protective tenant laws in the country. Last February, the city launched its advertised Right to Counsel program, which provides free legal services to low-income Philadelphia tenants in select ZIP codes. Initially deployed for two ZIP codes in West and North Philadelphia, the program expanded in February to include two more in Germantown and Port Richmond — but the program does not yet include the Clark neighborhood.

READ MORE: Singles in Philadelphia pay more than $6,000 more in rent than their married counterparts

According to the city, 38% of low-income tenants in the first two right-to-announce ZIP codes were represented by lawyers, compared to less than 21% citywide. Before the legislation was passed, only about 11% of tenants were represented by lawyers in eviction court.

By comparison, about 80% of landlords are represented by lawyers in eviction proceedings.

AHP began notifying applicants of vouchers selected for the waitlist. In the meantime, Clark works with a real estate agent to try to find rental accommodation she can afford.

“It’s not like I’m just sitting here waiting for someone to call me,” she said. “I’m over there looking at myself. … But it is only by the grace of God that I will be called.

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