"Lisa” is a Colorado Springs native and mother of six kids ages 5 to 20.
Eleven years ago, she was sexually assaulted. For the safety of her family, she needed to move quickly.
It was a challenge. Lisa, who asked me not to use her real name to protect her children, has an undifferentiated autoimmune disorder that prevents her from working, a fixed income and relied on a Section 8 voucher from the government that helped pay her rent. Finding a place to accommodate a large brood that also fit her budget and accepted the voucher was always a challenge. So when her mechanic told her his landlord had several properties, she followed up.
Lisa was incredibly relieved to find the landlord had a larger home in the Vista Grande neighborhood available for $969 a month. Here, Lisa was able to create a very stable home life. She spent her days at home with her children, teaching herself to coupon to make ends meet. A master at saving money, she has taught her skills to other needy families.
But her home wasn’t necessarily the dream she’d imagined. Lisa says over the years, neglected minor repairs grew to be enormous problems. “I had a leak for over a year,” she says of her front yard spigot. “One day I finally put a 5-gallon bucket [under it] just to assess how much it was and by the end of the day it was just spilling over.”
Another time, the house failed a Housing Authority inspection because the downstairs bathroom was overgrown with mold and pipes were leaking “from the top to the bottom.” Lisa claims the leak was due to a faulty manifold in the upstairs bathroom that the landlord “just didn’t want to spend $700 to fix.” Whatever the cause, the leaks not only led to mold but also caused her utility bill to skyrocket.
And that wasn’t all: Lisa says her family also went without a furnace for over two months.
But those problems pale in comparison to the one Lisa is facing now. She says that when she attempted to renew her Section 8 voucher last year, a technician called her and said, “I think you’ve been hiding income from us.” While Lisa says her income hasn’t changed, the technician cited monthly discrepancies in their records ranging from $20 to $70 over the last 14 years.
Lisa says she embarked on extensive research to try to figure out how differences in her reported and actual income could have occurred. She says she believes that some mistakes were hers and some had to do with mix-ups in Department of Human Services documentation.
However it happened, Lisa says she was given a month to pay back thousands of dollars to cure the discrepancy if she wanted to remain in the program.
She didn’t have the money and lost the voucher in May 2018. Her government bill went to collections, tanking her credit score.
Lisa cut back in order to pay her monthly bills over the next 10 months: rent, which now cost $1,495, and $350 in utilities. When her landlord let her know that he would not renew her lease, she also spent $1,500 on rental application fees (see story, p. 10) trying to secure a new place to live.
By March, she says, “[I decided] that as bad as this is with the mold, the leaks, not having running toilets, [the landlord] not replacing the carpet, with the leak under the kitchen sink that was never fixed … having somewhere is better than nowhere... And if I can have another year, maybe I can figure something else out.”
Lisa tried to talk her landlord into renewing the lease, but he refused, the maintenance issues continued. She ended up leaving without paying her last two weeks’ rent.
Since then, the family has been scattered and unstable. Lisa’s eldest son — who left home a year ago — lives in a one-bedroom apartment. It’s not a big enough space to fit the rest of the family. Her second child, who is 16, is temporarily staying with her mentor from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
Lisa and her four youngest children have been in the Family Promise program, which is provided through the Interfaith Hospitality Program of Colorado Springs, since April. The homeless family stays in a different church every week, and while they’re grateful for the help, the communal living has been tough for the kids.
“I hate this,” Lisa’s 13-year-old daughter says.
But Lisa is hoping Family Promise will help her achieve her dream of homeownership. And a chance at a stable future, she says, is worth a little discomfort.