Living on the Edge: Another Northpoint family faces eviction
Carol Vialadores’ apartment was nearly empty the day I walked through the door. So empty that I stood there, confused, wondering if her family had already been evicted.
The three-bedroom unit on the third floor in a typical Rogers Park building was stark, with just a few pieces of scattered furniture and old curtains stretched across the large windows facing the alley.
It wasn’t particularly homey, but then again, neither are the streets. That’s where Carol will be living with her three young children if she gets evicted next Thursday.
Thursday is her trial. A jury of her peers will decide whether the accusations against her are true, and whether she and her kids deserve to stay.
No matter what they decide, one thing is for certain: Carol and her kids are living on the edge. And not in an Aerosmith kind of way. They’re living on the edge of what we would call a normal family life, and if they’re evicted, they will most definitely be diving off that cliff.
Single mothers have been vilified in our society. They’re the bad ones – never doing enough, never getting ahead, burdening us all. And yet, sitting across from Carol at her kitchen table – a rickety wood table with mismatched chairs, she seems less like a villain and more like a hero, trudging ahead despite her circumstances.
Carol has raised her kids pretty much by herself. Their father, Harold, has been in and out of her life. He’s a drug addict, she says, and they’ve had trouble in the past with domestic abuse. She’s gone back and forth between letting him be a part of her kids life and shutting him out. He isn’t allowed to live there anymore, she says, but he comes and stays once and awhile when he’s sober.
It was one of those days in April when Harold was sober and helpful that she left him with her sons, 8 and 5, while she went out to the store. Her youngest son, Johnathon, found a lighter and was playing with it in his bedroom when his blanket and mattress caught fire.
Carol says she was distraught over the fire, but was glad that it didn’t spread or hurt anyone. She agreed to pay for the damages, and didn’t hear any objection from the management company.
“I know it was my fault, but it was an accident,” she says. “Accidents happen.”
About a month later, Carol’s yearly inspection came due, and a number of work orders were put in for her apartment. When an employee in the management office came to her apartment, Carol says the woman started saying that Carol had to pay for the problems, even though they weren’t her fault, and taunting Carol about the state of her apartment.
Carol admits she got mad. She told the woman to leave – she had already negotiated the work orders with the manager – and when she didn’t, the two began yelling at each other.
“They always insult you,” she says of the management. “They always belittle you. I stand up for myself, and that’s what they don’t like.”
Soon after that, she got an eviction notice from the management, saying that she had threatened management, had an unauthorized person living in her unit – her husband, Harold – and had caused the fire by leaving her child unattended.
There’s no real hard evidence on either side. If Carol threatened and assaulted the management, no police report was filed. It’s her word against the managers, and that’s what the jury must decide on.
The management company, says Carol’s lawyer, John Elson, will try to make Carol out to be irresponsible and out of control. It’s up to him to show that the grounds for eviction are unfounded and weak.
“They’re claiming she made some fairly upstreperous comment,” he says. “They could try to make her look pretty bad. We’re going to present evidence that there was no threat – that people did get upset, but there was no threat. We’re going to try to show that what she did was understandable in the context and the circumstances certainly didn’t rise to the significance of evicting a family.”
Elson says Carol has also been involved with the newly formed tenant organizing committee, which could be a factor in her eviction.
“I know that she’s been involved with the tenants organization, and I know they don’t like that,” says Elson.
It’s hard to imagine a life where the safety of your family could come down to a ‘he said/she said’ type argument, but that’s what it means to be living on the edge.
Carol works as a house cleaner, but it doesn’t pay so well. If she’s lucky, she might make $50 or $60 a day. She makes enough to get by, but just barely. She takes care of three kids without help, without support, and with the knowledge that the things she needs to take care of them – food, shelter, clothing, safety – cannot be guaranteed.
“The only thing I’ve been doing is being a mother,” she says. “That’s the hardest thing to do when you don’t have a man to help you.”
Northpoint says the grounds for her eviction are factual and straightforward. Cindy Duffy, spokesperson for AIMCO, the company that owns Northpoint, gave me this statement.
“The management of Northpoint has provided a termination of tenancy notice to Carol Vialdores as a result of Ms. Vialdores violating the terms of her lease on several occasions. These violations include permitting an unauthorized person to live in her apartment without being on her lease; instances of verbal abuse and threat of physical harm directed at members of the management team; and leaving minor children unattended in her apartment unit, during which time one of her children started a fire resulting in significant damage to the apartment unit.”
I hesitated to write this article because Carol’s case isn’t cut and dry. Unlike another case I covered at Northpoint – where a family of orphans and their guardian were being wrongly evicted – Carol’s case slides into territory that’s difficult to clearly portray. No doubt, I’ll get quite a few comments telling me how undeserving Carol is of help. Even the most compelling stories attract those kinds of doubters.
I wanted to tell you Carol’s story because what she’s going through is so incredibly typical. It happens every day. You might just not notice because it doesn’t happen in your neighborhood.
Researcher Matt Desmond did some groundbreaking work on evictions this year, showing us that in poor, black communities in Milwaukee, one in five families are evicted each year. Evictions are so prevalent, says Desmond, that they are to black women what incarceration is to black men.
And they’re just as destabilizing. Once you’re evicted, it’s much harder to find another place to rent. The quality of place you can get goes down while the price and the security deposit goes up. If you can find a new place that you can afford, you might have to pay a large deposit to have your utilities transferred. It’s very likely that your new apartment is in a more dangerous neighborhood with fewer jobs and social services.
That’s if you get a new place. Instead, many families end up doubling up with relatives, landing in a homeless shelter or even out on the streets.
The process is a downward spiral. It makes vulnerable families more vulnerable. Eviction is often the domino that pushes families into a never-ending cycle of negative behavior.
That’s why Carol’s case matters so much. Because whether or not you believe her, her eviction has serious consequences for her family. This woman, who’s been working so hard to be a good mom to her kids, will find her job that much harder.
We don’t see these families. They live in neighborhoods far from our own, lining up at the nearest legal aid clinic because they can’t afford a lawyer. They may look different, shop at unfamiliar stores and watch different shows on TV.
But they’re still like us. Carol is like any mother trying to make the best life for her kids.
But unlike many of us who reside a safe distance from ruin, Carol’s closer to the edge of that cliff than she’s even before, and there’s no safety net.