As a snowstorm dawns, women risk being ‘evicted’ from their homes | Calavia-Robertson

Imagine tropical storm floodwaters killing your neighbors, destroying your apartment, and leaving you homeless, sleeping in a hotel room for months.

Now imagine that on a cold Friday morning, while you were still in that hotel room and after listening to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declare a state of emergency thanks to a severe snowstorm that was expected to hitting the state, your phone rings and you get a call saying you’re being kicked out.

Lataiyyah Washington does not have to imagine this dilemma. It happens to him. Hurricane Ida left approximately 600 residents of Oakwood Plaza Apartments in Elizabeth homeless, including Washington, and killed a family of three and their 33-year-old neighbor.

“I didn’t know what to do, I still don’t know what I’m going to do, I have nowhere to go,” said Washington, who lived in the Section 8 apartment complex at 600 Oakwood. “There’s going to be quite a blizzard…where are we supposed to go?”

Washington, who with her two children, ages 3 and 14, stayed at the Embassy Suites by Hilton hotel in Elizabeth said she had no family or friends who could take her in. When she expressed this to the Elizabeth City worker who called her to let her know she had to check out of the hotel today, she said the worker told her, “C is your problem.”

The City of Elizabeth spokeswoman did not return phone calls, and emails to the city for comment were not answered. Mayor Chris Bollwage recorded a message to residents in September 2021 who were moved saying the apartments would be cleaned and repaired in a few weeks. The damaged apartments are however still closed.

Washington said she was told she “has to go” because of her refusal to move into apartments owned by Community Investment Strategies, the private company that owns and operates the Oakwood Plaza apartment complex.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to (move into one of the available apartments) but none were in Elizabeth,” she said. “One was in South Jersey…what’s that, about two hours away?” ! Everything we do is here, school for the kids, work, doctor’s appointments, and I don’t have anyone who could help us drive or get around.

Washington said the stress of her housing situation was so overwhelming that she couldn’t stop crying at times. “None of us who lived in Oakwood asked for any of this,” she said, her voice cracking.

Community activist Salaam Ismial, who has been involved in the plight of Oakwood Plaza tenants since day one and is often a listening ear and yes, even a shoulder to cry on for former residents, said it hurt him to hear and see all that Washington and others have had to endure because of “a lack of care, consideration, and sensitivity on the part of the town of Elizabeth.”

“For a wife, a mother, and with young children on top of that, to tell you she’s going to be on the street and she’s crying and you say you don’t care?” said Ismial. “It’s despicable.”

In Manhattan, organizations quickly came together to provide assistance to tenants affected by the recent deadly fire at a 19-story apartment building in the Bronx, Ismial said. “Why couldn’t it be like that here?”

“People there really surrounded these victims and guaranteed them permanent housing, and gave them the services they needed to help them heal, to help them move on, but here it’s been months and people are still dealing with this.”

Former Oakwood Plaza tenant Samaria White said she has been living in an Embassy Suites hotel room with two of her children since September. And said she too had been asked to move into a CIS (Community Investment Strategies) apartment which was “far too far from everything in my life”.

White, whose 17-year-old son has special needs, said she needed to stay at Elizabeth or as close to Elizabeth as possible to be close to her son’s doctors.

“One of the apartments was in Tom’s River,” she said. “But our life is here…it’s not fair that they threaten, ‘Take the apartment or leave’ but that’s what they’re doing, that’s what’s happening.”

White said her eldest daughter, who is 26 and has been placed in the APA Hotel in Woodbridge, also received a call this morning from someone at City Hall letting her know she had to leave the house. bedroom on Friday.

“She was upset, crying, because they told her today would be her last day,” she said.

“It’s a difficult situation for all of us at the moment. It’s happened to over 600 families. And we are all looking for the same thing…a place to feel safe, a permanent home but in Elizabeth.

You can reach Daysi Calavia-Robertson at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @presspassdaysi or Twitter @presspassdaysi.

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