It took Kaleena Small more than three years to find an apartment.
“I've tried everything – lotteries, regular brokers. I filled out 60 to 70 applications, but I just got denial letters, denial letters, ”she said. "I would even wear my work clothes so they can see that I am working."
Ms. Small, 38, was living in a domestic violence home with her young daughter from spring 2017 through May last year when she was eventually given a one-bedroom apartment in Fountains, an affordable housing development in East New York, Brooklyn.
Ms. Small grew up in the Allerton borough of the Bronx, where she also lived with her boyfriend – they were "high school darlings," she said – and the father of their daughter Keandra Brown, 6.
"One minute everything was cool and the next … He wasn't bad with his kid, but he wasn't right about me," she said. "I couldn't raise my child, my daughter, in a household with domestic violence. I don't want that for my child at all. I don't want that for anyone."
When Ms. Small left her boyfriend, she and Keandra went to a short-term domestic violence home in East Harlem and were then transferred to a long-term domestic violence home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Although she had worked since she was 16 – in fast food at McDonald's and Burger King, operating amusement parks in Rye Playland, and security for various companies – Ms. Small had never lived alone and could not afford it .
At first she was happy to have the shelter's support. She was given a furnished bedroom to share with her daughter and found the parenting and financial management courses helpful.
"I was scared of being alone – I've never been alone and needed this extra help," she said. “They had things that we needed to know before we hit the real world. It taught me to be independent and grow up more. "
The shelter also linked her to employment programs in the city that helped her find better-paying jobs, and performed maintenance work for the New York Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Hygiene. "I worked with plumbing and cashed a check for $ 1,000," she said. “I had never cashed a $ 1,000 check before. I loved it. "
Ms. Small searched for a permanent home at the shelter the entire time, but found that there was nowhere to go. Although she received a housing voucher as part of the expansion of the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement program, the landlords she met wanted more than the maximum rent allowed in the program. (Under current guidelines, a family of two cannot spend more than $ 1,268 a month.)
"At one point they said yes, but then they told me they got a higher bid," Ms. Small said. Despite assurances that they would keep an eye on her if something else became available, she never heard from them again.
In the end, she had better luck with the apartment lottery.
$ 0 | East New York, Brooklyn
Kaleena Small, 38, and Keandra Brown, 6
Rental fee: The $ 931 monthly rent of the apartment is fully covered by a rental voucher as Ms. Small stays at home to care for her daughter during the pandemic.
Occupation: Until the pandemic, she was a maintenance worker at the New York Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Plumbing.
She likes the area: "It's not too rah-rah, not too loud. Nobody hangs out on the stairs smoking."
The only thing missing: A deli. "That's the only thing I have a problem with," she said. "They should set up a deli in the building next door."
Your future decoration plans: Include painting. "I'm tired of the white walls," said Ms. Small. "I would like a nice purple, not too dark."
In March last year, she received a call from the Fountains, a mixed-use development in East New York, Brooklyn built by the Arker Companies that will eventually have 1,163 affordable housing units. The first phase of the project had just completed and she was invited for an interview and tour.
She tried not to get too excited. “Everything was shut down because of Covid-19. I thought I was at the shelter for another year, ”she said. "But then, two days after I saw the apartment, they called me and said," You have been accepted. "I started screaming."
"It was the end of the fight," she said, "that I am in the shelter and get away from it."
In May, she moved to a one-bedroom apartment that rents for $ 931 a month. She pays $ 400, the rest is covered by a rental assistance voucher. When the schools closed and she had to quit her job to take care of Keandra, her rent fell to nothing. (Due to the insecurity of teaching in person, Ms. Small was unable to return to work.)
The apartment is the first house that Ms. Small and Keandra have been able to choose and decorate furniture for. "I've never had my own furniture," said Ms. Small. “In my last apartment nothing was mine; everything was his, his, his. Here I had a little helping hand from my family. Everyone was thrilled that I left him and that this is my first crib for me. "
Ms. Small took the living room as a bedroom and gave her daughter the large bedroom of the apartment, which Keandra decorated with her extensive collection of items on the theme of "Frozen": She has a "Frozen" carpet, bed linen, table and chairs.
“I wanted Keandra to have her own room. I also like that I can have peace and quiet in my room, ”she said. “In the shelter we had room inspection and curfew. I just wanted to be free from everything. "
Except for the people she keeps in touch with through Zoom, she added.
In her new building, she managed to make some friends in the middle of the pandemic, but not like the one at the animal shelter.
“I was there like a celebrity. Everyone likes my energy, ”she said. "I make people laugh and smile when they're downstairs. I'm like a big, stupid kid at heart."