Community Action, Inc: Mary J’s Story

Mary J is the grandmother of three adolescent boys for whom she cares full-time as her two sons are incarcerated. She works at a local grocery store.

Mary came to Community Action, Inc. for rent and utility assistance. She had fallen behind on both because of the cost of supporting her grandchildren and her sons. She also had several unexpected medical costs. She receives food stamps but no other financial support.

During the application process, Mary revealed that her home was the site of random shootings. No one had been injured but the house had been damaged on several occasions. Obviously, she feared for her safety and the safety of her grandchildren. Also, the landlord (who lived out of state) refused to make repairs on the home, including any weatherization that would make the house more energy efficient and reduce Mary’s unusually high utility bills. Fortunately Mary was on a month to month lease.

Community Action contacted the landlord to express our concerns and advocate on Mary’s behalf for home improvements. The landlord refused, admitting that numerous other problems were surfacing that he could not afford to repair. He then insisted on holding to the notice “to quit” the lease. However, he agreed not to pursue the rent in arrears but would retain Mary’s deposit.

Within a very short time Community Action helped Mary find a more affordable house to rent in a neighborhood known to be safe. The funds they had intended to use for her rent assistance covered the first month’s rent at the new location and a portion of the deposit, which the new landlord agreed to distribute over several months. Community Action negotiated a payment agreement on the utilities, which were switched to the new address.

For Mary, this has been a life-changing event made possible through the United Way’s Basic Needs work. Basic needs include food, shelter, rent/utilities assistance, health access/prescription assistance and safety from domestic violence.