by Henry Randolph
On March 21, 2014, Tamika Artis and her seven year-old daughter Jalynn became Habitat Philadelphia’s 172nd homeowners, and were welcomed into their home by Habitat supporters, volunteers and partner families during a wonderful dedication ceremony. Tamika recently shared with us her story of living in substandard housing, and why her partnership with Habitat Philadelphia is so important for her family.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tamika graduated from Kutztown University and is a Social Worker at Community Counsel in West Philadelphia, working with special-need adults. She’s proud of her many accomplishments, but she also knows that making honest mistakes is an inevitable part of life—and she learned this when she and Jalynn rented an apartment for the first time. After saving two years’ worth of tax returns, she signed a lease for an apartment in Northeast Philadelphia for $1000 per month—more than half her monthly income. Tamika thought it would be worth the extra money because the apartment was spacious and (at least during her initial visit) it looked well-maintained. “When I moved into the apartment,” she said, “I thought that because I had an advanced degree, because I’d saved money, that I was smart. You think you do everything right…but life happens.”
Tamika started to notice problems almost immediately. There were mice, mold problems and roof leaks; the floors sloped, and in the living room they couldn’t use more than one electrical socket at a time without tripping a breaker. The leaking roof caused things to steadily get worse. Their bathroom vanity cabinet fell apart entirely because of water damage. The ceiling in Jalynn’s bedroom suddenly caved in—right after Tamika had remodeled the room. It took two weeks for the management company to send a roofer out, and when he did come, he simply covered the hole with a tarp. Meanwhile, water from the hole made the mold and rodent problems steadily increase.
But the worst was what this all did to Jalynn’s health. A month after moving in, Tamika had to take Jalynn to the hospital because Jalynn was having trouble breathing. Her allergies and asthma got progressively worse because of the mold and allergens in the apartment. They’ve had to visit the ER so many times that Tamika says the doctors know them by name. “Fortunately,” she says, “the hospital is right down the street from us.” Jalynn now takes four different medications for breathing, itching and allergies. Despite their worsening situation, Tamika couldn’t afford to move to another apartment—the common requirement of first month’s rent, last month’s rent and a security deposit was far more money than she could afford.
But Tamika is endlessly optimistic. She says that her mantra for life is to “look on the bright side of every situation—are you learning from your mistakes?” She started looking for other housing options and found out about Habitat Philadelphia’s homeownership program. “I thought it would be a good fit so I completed the application, turned it in and waited.” Her acceptance came in September 2012, and when she found out, she says, “it felt too good to be true.” Being in the homeownership program has motivated Tamika to be as knowledgeable and educated about homeownership as she can possibly be.
We asked Tamika what it was like to work 350 hours of “Sweat Equity” work on Habitat’s homebuilding sites—one of the major requirements for purchasing a Habitat house. She said that she worked on both her own home and on many other families’ homes, and that all of the painting and framing makes her feel empowered to repair and maintain her new home. She has also noticed that her daughter’s language is changing. Jalynn now says ‘house’ instead of ‘apartment’ when talking about their future home; she knows that they’ll own their house for the first time—and she knows that means she’ll be able to paint her room any color she wants (Tamika thinks Jalynn would choose purple).
Tamika emphasizes that the partnership aspect of Habitat’s homeownership program is one of its best parts. It has given her a great opportunity to help other families and to create new friendships—she says, “If you can do something to help take the stress off of someone, why wouldn’t you?” Her partnership with Habitat gave her hope, confidence, and wisdom; as a first-time homeowner living in a safe, affordable Habitat house, she feels proud that she can now provide a healthy home for Jalynn to grow up in. “This chapter is closing, and another chapter is opening,” she says. “I knocked and opened doors—so that she can walk through them.”