If it wasn’t for a nosy neighbor, Phyllis Myers may have ended up in a homeless shelter after the home she rented for a decade was condemned in 2016.
Myers was pushing a shopping cart filled with jugs of distilled water near North Limestone in June 2016 when a man came up behind her.
Kris Nonn, who coordinates North Limestone Community Development Corporation’s affordable housing program, had looked out his window of the community organization’s North Limestone office and saw Myers pushing her cart up the street.
Nonn was worried and curious: Why would this woman need so much water? So he followed her and asked.
“I haven’t had water in five months,” Myers told Nonn.
Nonn was shocked. Myers had complained to her landlord for months that the plumbing in her Seventh Street home was busted. Although several relatives of her landlord stopped by, the pipes — which Nonn said froze in February and burst — were never fixed.
Nonn called code enforcement. Code enforcement found a host of violations in the home that Myers had shared with her late husband for 10 years. There were no working fire detectors. There was no lock on the front door — the Myers used a padlock to lock their door. The floorboards were beginning to rot.
“I put my foot down on the floor in the bathroom and it went down four inches,” Nonn said. Nonn also looked at Myers’ heating bills for that winter. “They were sometimes as much as $300 to $500 a month.”
The house was condemned and Myers was forced out. Her landlord left her a note on her door asking her to leave.
Nonn was horrified.
“I can’t believe I lost this woman her house,” Nonn said.
Finding a new home for Myers was no easy task, even for Nonn who builds affordable housing and has extensive experience with city services. Nonn and Myers called a number that is supposed to connect people with needed social services.
“They said to go to the Lexington Housing Authority and get on Craigslist and start looking for an apartment,” Nonn said. “Phyllis has never been on a computer in her life. She had a phone but she didn’t have any minutes left on it. She didn’t have a car.”
The Lexington Housing Authority was not accepting applications for either public housing or its voucher programs, which tenants can use to pay rent for private rental units.
Myers is 68. She’s on Social Security and receives less than $750 a month.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Myers said. “Kris kept saying, ‘I’m sorry. I’m not good at this.’ I don’t know what he was talking about. It’s better than I could do. I didn’t know where to go.”
The city’s adult and tenant services — which is supposed to help people who are evicted — at first declined to help Myers because she did not have a lease. Nonn convinced the department to help. The city paid for Myers’ 10-day stay at a local hotel while Nonn and Myers scrambled to find Myers an affordable place to stay. Nonn eventually got Myers to Lori Clemons, director of outreach services for the Lexington Rescue Mission.
The rescue mission helps find people housing. They also help with security deposits or first month’s rent. Clemons found Myers a subsidized apartment for seniors on Elm Tree Lane. She pays $205 a month. That includes all utilities. She’s been in the neat one-bedroom apartment for more than a year now.
Myers said she’s upset she knew so little. She thinks too many renters are in the same situation she was in.
“I think they should at least have a pamphlet they can give to people,” Myers said.
“There are all these services and pots of money out there but there is no way someone who doesn’t have a phone or a car can do it,” Nonn said.
Nonn said Myers’ situation is not unique.
There are other rental properties in North Lexington that are affordable but likely run afoul of current building codes, Nonn said.
“A lot of people don’t even know they can call code enforcement or they don’t know how to find code enforcement or they are afraid if they do call they will be black-listed because a lot of the downtown landlords talk to each other,” Nonn said.
Others know that if they call, their rental property will be condemned and they won’t be able to find housing that cheap, he said.
Meanwhile, Myers can’t say enough about her comfortable and tidy one-bedroom apartment on Elm Tree Lane. She loves it. The best part — the water.
“There are times when I take very, very, very long showers,” Myers said laughing.