Student sounds off on Monroe housing agency

Monroe Housing Commission (MHC) is at it again!

As a tenant of Greenwood Townhomes, we're required to answer to MHC because they oversee the Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) money for the low/no income housing.

These "project-style" housing units are known to be notoriously bad.

You hear artists rap about the "projects" in Detroit, Brooklyn and Philly; the shootings, the gangs, and so on. Well, I can assure you Eminem never rapped about the "projects" in Monroe, Michigan. But tenants are branded with the same stigma of living in them, no matter where they're located.

During the winter 2012 semester, I wrote the article, "Housing Commission; shame on you!" I told the story of my friend, Christine Benvenuto. MHC was trying to evict her for not completing her eight hours a month of required community service.

Even after she supplied them with a note from the doctor excusing her, MHC still forced her to do it. Christine was sick and had to have two surgeries. One was to have a mass removed from her vocal cord, the other to remove her thyroid.

Christine underwent a thyroidectomy where doctors performed a biopsy; she has cancer.

My dear friend did everything she could to make them understand she was sick, but I watched her pleas for help fall upon deaf ears. Needless to say, I fought for her, and she won.

MHC was not happy, to say the least.

I spoke up for my friend, for Greenwood tenants and alike. I helped Christine keep her home, I publically defended the rights of those who live there, and I've paid for it ever since.

Despite the backlash, do I regret it – not in a million.

Has it affected my life – in every way.

That was December 2012; it's been roughly ten months ago that I wrote the article. Now the MHC director is threatening me with an eviction.

The day my article came out, the Agora's web traffic quintupled in hits. The rumor mill was churning. I became the one to quintessentially "open up a can" on them. And that had never been done before.

I had some serious concerns with MHC prior to Christine's story. So when I saw this happening to her, I was totally outraged.

I didn't want to make this about me, so I didn't; I still don't, but this is so wrong.

The harassment and the intimidation are unbearable. No one should have to live this way, no one.

After the article came out, housing called me into the office for a meeting. They claimed they spent ten hours going over all of my paperwork and "discovered" that I owed them over $700 in back rent.

I argued with them for over two hours while they accused me of committing fraud. By the end of the meeting, they admitted it was their miscalculation, but that I would still have to pay them the money. I adamantly disagreed and I told them I'd have to consult an attorney.

By 9 o'clock the next morning, I received a call from the director. She claimed she had found a way to "forgive" my debt under a "hardship."

The subject was never brought up again.

Every day in the MHC office, one after the other, people turn in papers, notify them of changes, pay their rent, etc. For MHC, it's business as usual. For us, these changes can define whether we keep our home or not.

In March, I dropped off paperwork that proved my income had changed in February and I needed my rent to be reduced. For four months, I waited, and waited, and waited … just to sign a rent adjustment? I lost my food assistance. which is used to feed my child, because I couldn't verify my rent.

I've filed complaints with HUD and I've spoke to the Fair Housing Commission. I even went before the board that MHC answers to so that I could voice my concerns. I attended their monthly meeting in September; it was a Tuesday.

I explained that I was finished dealing with the director about "anything" anymore; this is actually affecting my health. I figured I should start with the most serious issues so that I could grab their attention and go from there. So as I began to confront the director about putting myself and my son's safety in jeopardy, the board president cut me off. He told me I had to set up a separate meeting with director to "air" my concerns.

But, I already did that?

My meeting was set for a Friday, so for four more days I stressed; I seethed with anxiety.

I showed up and to my surprise, there's the board president, the MHC director and her office manager – that's it? Where is everyone? What about the other board members? Why aren't they getting to hear this?

As I was escorted into her office, I hesitated; momentarily, jerking myself out of a déjà vu-like state of the inevitable.

I didn't stand a chance.

They each took turns pointing at the 20-plus pages of documents for every faux pas I may have made in the 27 months I've lived there.

I finally got to speak. I so much as told the director she couldn't treat us like second-class citizens, and she flipped.

Wasn't this supposed to be a meeting for me to "air" my concerns?

I really do think the director took offense to the "second-class citizen" thing, but mostly it was just an overflow of hostility because I wrote the article. She screamed at me a tale of her humble beginning and told me they were going to proceed with an eviction?

Oh no, you don't!

I could see this was going nowhere fast. So, I got the heck out of there. Amongst the anarchy of my "pending eviction," I have to find a lawyer, and I really don't feel good?

This is becoming a trend.

I moved to Greenwood amidst learning the hardest lesson of my life, and boy have I learned it. But that doesn't give anyone the right to judge me. I've paid with my blood, my sweat, my tears and my health.

I got myself right with God.

I have not only learned my lesson, I've turned it around to help others. I've made it my life's work to advocate against discrimination and for emotional abuse and substance abuse awareness.

I'm a mother and a father to my son, an advocate, a student, a lady; I'm an award-winning scholar, for goodness sake?

Monroe Housing Commission, shame on you again!

No one ever questioned how hard your mother worked for you, Ms. Director. I simply confronted you over the way you are treating others.

You've treated me as if I were uneducated and ignorant; beneath you.

You've made me doubt myself. You've made me falter in my course with a succession of intimidation and uncertainty.

You've made me sick, literally.

I've fought with myself these feelings of powerlessness and I've realize something. I have more power than you think.

I have the power of my pen.

Editor's note: Nancy Wain, executive director of the Monroe Housing Commission, was offered the opportunity to respond to this article. She declined.