November 2021 blog

Today, I want to give a brief glimpse of our family life the last few months.

CW: suicide and death ideation.

In August, I pleaded for help because we were drowning. We hit another snag in trying to get the kids’ benefits reinstated. Bills piled up and I was very much already in despair. But we did get over $2,000 in donations that month. We caught up on bills and what should have been at least a couple of weeks that I could just BREATHE, our air conditioning went out. 

Then the property refused to even look at it days later – as in the maintenance tech pointed at the wall, said it was working and left. I pleaded with the office the following day to get it repaired. That week, temperatures were over 90 and inside, it was often 80 or over. It was seven days before the property manager finally offered a portable air conditioner and the same tech who refused to work on our unit showed up with it. That day, he told me that his supervisor refused to even replace the unit ‘because it’s working’. When he turned it on to “prove it”, he ended up working on it for an hour, on the phone with someone and ended up fixing it temporarily. When he finished, he told me, ‘I set it to 68. Now it’s working.’

No apology about refusing to work on the unit for a week. The following day, the tech he’d been on the phone with the previous day showed up and repaired the unit and told me what was wrong with it and so much more about this property.

When I say temperatures were over 90 outside and almost matching inside, this isn’t an inconvenient couple of hours that we’re talking about. We are talking about two disabled people, both in wheelchairs, who were subjected to a week of no air conditioning by a property that openly refused to work on our air conditioning even with multiple urgent pleas by people who cannot regulate their body temperatures. I have videos of constant temperature taking throughout that time. It’s why there are thermometers all over the apartment now.

Yes, I thought of lawyers right off. No, that wasn’t forthcoming because while there has been some generalized agreement that Something Went Wrong (lawyer speak is vague when it can’t be concrete advice), my ask for an apology, a week of compensation and maybe assurance that this team would not repeat the same and be aware of response is something lawyers assure me that we can handle on our own. I wasn’t demanding months of free rent, millions of dollars, or some wild displays of contrition. I’m not an entitled white woman with the ego of a middle aged white man.

When I probed how this was allowed to even occur and if this was the treatment we can expect throughout our residency, the property manager emailed me back this response. ‘We never refused to work on your unit.’ Did someone tell me that I’m wrong about what happened, or did she just suggest that I’m a liar? I’ve been asking this question of everyone at this corporation.

This is what I have been dealing with ever since. Or rather, this is a continuation of what happened to us last year at this complex.

We moved into this property last year, end of June, 2020. In the months previous, we knew that our lease was ending and that we needed new digs. We shopped around. I knew this complex 20 years ago. I know and like this area. I was the one who advocated that we move into this place.

From day one, I have been up front with the leasing agent about the importance of a flat entry because the last two places that we’ve lived in have been more out of necessity than design, so we dealt with stairs. I even told him about a setup nearby that was PERFECT for us and offered to show it to him. He declined. I was adamant about how important a flat entry would be as well as accessible parking – like the apartment that I wanted to show him.

We visited the complex at least three times. One of those times, the leasing agent took us to look at a similar two bedroom apartment because, he said, our unit was being worked on and we couldn’t see it. Yet again, I reiterated the importance of a flat entry because he took us to an apartment that had steps up to the landing. As an ambulatory wheelchair user, I could hobble up the stairs and my son carried my wheelchair up and down for me. I had been in my wheelchair for every visit. I don’t know how more apparent that it could have been that I’m in a wheelchair, in addition to talking so much about how nice it would be to have a home that we can roll into.

On the day we picked up the keys, we drove to the complex, excited about moving into our new home, we got directions, and got to the building. And found five stairs going up to the door. When I emailed the agent about it, he had the audacity to email me back this. ‘I was not aware of your accessibility requests.’ Then we were forced to fill out a form to establish WHY we needed a flat entry before they would even consider doing something about it. As though all of my up front talk about a flat entry hadn’t even been clear? Or if that was a requirement beyond plain English, that should have been communicated from the start, right? I say though I have never rented an apartment in the last thirteen years that required disabled tenants to make an accessibility request to just get in their front door. I still question this property’s process. When I argued the stairs situation, that same property manager told me over the phone, ‘maybe next time you look for an apartment, you’ll do better.’ What a winning team we just signed on to being our landlords for at least a year. I advised that no communication will be without a record from then on.

Now. It’s been a year and a half almost, and I have thought about this beginning a lot. Maybe the guy didn’t bother going to the unit to verify that it was the flat entry that he assured. Maybe he didn’t bother asking if the entry was flat when he was told it was being worked on. In no scenario of someone who is responsible for matching tenants to apartments can I imagine anyone getting that excess of information about our disabilities and past living situations and could not be bothered to respect that throughout.

No, no one apologized for that one. We were given an option on two units, picked our current one and were given a token compensation gesture. While I had my misgivings, my children and roommate wanted to live here. That no one had been accountable whatsoever always bothered me, but as I told the regional manager at the time, I just wanted a safe place for my family to live. I even sent him a dentalium medallion for getting us into the different unit.

Except, the property took three months to let us even move into the unit. No compensation was ever made for it. No other explanation other than, ‘it’s not ready yet.’

Mind you, for three months, that means this corporation was only collecting rent on one unit and another reserved in our name was empty and not generating income. For MONTHS. At rental rates at the time, this is roughly $5,000 of lost revenue. It had been empty when we picked it out and it was already ready to move in. I question the three months as more of a test of how far they could torment us before they had to cave and let us move. Mostly because the leasing agent never had to admit fault or apologize and the property manager herself seemed to take some glee in blaming me for what her agent did to us. I had to escalate the matter of our deposit back to the regional manager as well, since the property removed evidence of our deposit on our new lease and it had to be manually input. Kind of like how they ran credit reports on all of us because I processed our applications at the same time, yet they listed only myself and the old roommate as residents. Which, after all the runaround with social security, means that unless I can find physical or digital evidence, they’re not going to acknowledge that my kids have been tenants from day one AND any benefits due back to my kids is gone. If you rent – DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.

We have only been here in the current apartment since last October. In our previous apartment in this complex, we had a pest infestation. Roaches. In 30 years of renting apartments, I’ve never had roaches. I’ve encountered them in hotels and other places, never in my own home. So it was pretty devastating. I talked about it before.

Now in this unit, we have a new pest infestation and it’s the SECOND one in this unit. This means in less than two years of living in this complex, we have had three roach infestations. On this most recent one, no one responded to me for two weeks and when I finally confronted the office yet again with a warranty of habitability law I found to either address the situation or put our family and pets into a hotel, they finally scheduled pest control.

Not too long ago, the newest regional manager I’m dealing with told me that the response to everything that our family has endured at this property has been proper and correct. Really? Two weeks of refusing to acknowledge a pest control request. Refusing to work on our air conditioner. Their maintenance tech refused to leave the apartment when I told him that he couldn’t be here and though I broke down on two agents and in front of my kids and another maintenance tech, that asshole refused to leave until he finished whatever he was working on. A leasing agent who hasn’t even faced accountability and a property manager who not only covered for said agent, but doubled down, in my opinion, on the abuse. Proper and correct?

Remember not long ago when a maintenance worker improperly used a key and a tenant was found killed?

Now I’m up to a regional vice-president. Language wise, there are times that I think she’s honestly trying to make sense of all of this and I wonder what tale her underlings have tried to spin. There are times, however, that I think she just wants our family to go away and doesn’t want to deal with what is actually a very serious disability issue. I have even asked what happens if our heater goes out this year like it did last year -something that I hadn’t included previously!- not doing anything or holding anyone accountable makes it okay for them to let us freeze or put us through any other abuse. 

Because they DID let us freeze last year. I had been told that I had to call for any emergencies. I did. Days on end went by and we bought space heaters ourselves in every room so we wouldn’t freeze. We suffered the cold and all they did was tell us that they had been backed up with other units. No apology. No offer of space heaters for the time that we didn’t have heat. No compensation. So. Proper and correct?

Now I’m waiting to hear back from this regional vice-president. I heard back from a lawyer who asked if I had signed anything yet, but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet either. Yet again, we’re back in a holding pattern.

In the meantime, our family has been drowning. Quietly. I’ve taken most of this offline because it’s a LOT. For example, Lio told me that during the time we were suffering without heat that he had thoughts. Our convo was something like this.

Me: the air conditioner seems to be working. It’s strange how much difference a few degrees can make.

Lio: it was so hot that I wanted to die.

As a parent, there are certain phrases and words that just. Gut punch. Over a few hours, I probed a bit and he wasn’t kidding. While I had been complaining about being too hot, he had told me that it was too warm. Remember, Lio is paraplegic. He has use of his non-dominant left hand. He needs help being moved and to prevent falls. He also can’t regulate his body temperature and has collapsed from heat exhaustion before. I included that info in countless emails to this corporation about the importance of getting the air conditioner fixed as well as the importance of communication.

Lio is also on the lease. This is the treatment that this property inflicted -for over a year- on a paraplegic tenant and are calling it proper and correct. I have issues with how this is somehow okay. So far, I’m the only one. But proper and correct, right?

In the weeks and months since, I have worked extensively with Lio while having to process all of this and try moving forward with the property as well as maintain our normal day to day and monthly bills. To say that I haven’t been present is an understatement. I know that my own mental health has improved despite an episode that I’ll mention shortly. Sometimes after the electricity of a disaster quells, you question yourself if it was really that bad.

Yes. It was. Kind of still is.

But we are getting better and this is presenting us with a new uncertain cliff.

I had plans that began in the midst of that episode. So let’s talk about that for a moment.

It wasn’t late, but it was cold and getting there. I don’t think there had been any one thing. Everything felt like too much and I asked myself to find that other path. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had to have more than one plan. There isn’t a one year, five year plan. It’s more like a collection of potential branches that get explored for other possibilities, pros and cons. Like Doctor Strange simultaneously running through a million scenarios, only not a million. For once, I didn’t want to look for another path. Another possibility. I felt that pit coming and my fingers were shaking.

“I can’t”. It was just on repeat. I wanted someone else to have an answer for once and knowing that it was only me was so overwhelming. 

Me: guys. I’m having a crisis. I’m not sure what kind yet, but I’ll keep you updated on where it’s going, okay? Ask questions if you need, but let me have some space.

Them: okay!

It wasn’t that easy, but it also was. Both kids have been through so much trauma in their young lives and we have worked really hard on getting to the same chapter, if not the same page so we’re not suffering alone and know we can support each other. I gotta self pat my back here because I recognized what was happening at the time even if I couldn’t acknowledge it while it happened.

Raphael got me ice and some coke zero. He didn’t ask, he just delivered. I get dehydrated and cold coke zero helps remind me to drink water. I don’t think he put that specific thought to the action, but he got me something and went off to play a video game. Lio poked his head out every so often to check on me and offered a video game now and then.

In between, I had discovered that our phones had been disconnected, but had wifi. I went to the suicide prevention website where it says to ‘call, text or walk in’. I could do none of those things. A friend stayed on the phone with me outside so the kids didn’t have to see. Lio slept on the couch and rambled quietly before we went to sleep.

But much later, a friend did gently put into perspective that I didn’t have a plan so much as being crushed because of xyz. While it helped to assure myself that this was an anxiety attack, it still didn’t help the whole, ‘can someone make a decision so I don’t have to’.

Since then, that’s been a mantra. Because my whole life, I’ve always had to lead. It isn’t a 100% thing throughout my whole life, lol, I’m not that saintly. But I have supported my family since I started working at 13. Full time by the time I was in 8th grade and going to school. I was our primary income until the family moved back to the Rez when I was 18. Throughout their adult lives, I’ve been able to come through for most family situations. I’m known as dependable and reliable that way. ‘Ali will figure it out’. Someone actually threw that in my face this year as justification to treating me badly, that’s how known, lol.

I don’t remember when, but I thought to myself, ‘fuck it, if it’s just me, give me your best and worst.’ The worst thoughts didn’t include what one might imagine. Instead, I thought about an impossible dream and challenged myself to make it work. Which for me was an indication that I’m firing on all cylinders for the project. I have paths again. I have branches for those paths.

But none of these paths can begin to be fully explored until we’re in stable housing. I wanted it to be this place. It’s why I promoted it to my family in the first place. Now it’s the source of hell for us; possibly for anyone else disabled in this property. We need stable housing. The one thing that I know is that no matter what, we can’t do a damn thing without a stable home. If you have at least a 2-bedroom house, mobile or manufactured home that you’re dying to give away here or to build for me back on the Rez, hit me up! Or if you’re a lawyer in Denver interested in talking, same.

Right now, we’ve been hit with a few crises that have wiped out everything that we had financially and we are deep in the red at this point. The van situation is keeping us from moving forward, too. Mostly because of the air conditioner situation, our electric bill is in the hundreds and we need to catch up on that. Our phone bills are due in two days and rent is going to be due soon. Right now, I’m focused more on catching up on bills. All of them together is well over $1,000, but I am also doing my best to find other avenues of revenue, such as jewelry and art. When I get a response from the regional vice-president, I’ll establish our gofundme for help moving then and pray.

Otherwise, please keep us in your thoughts. If you are able to help our family today or have ever contributed to our family. We have felt your generosity and community and are incredibly grateful for that. I hope to help return that energy back to our communities. Watch for my next project, hopefully being launched in early 2022, which will be art focused with select artists. That’s the path that I want to begin the most and it’s a super secret project now, but I think that it will be really cool.

There is hope in our apartment again. Not home. This place is no longer home. This place has been demoted and we’re stuck for now, but we’re not confined to despair.

This hasn’t been even half of what we’ve been dealing with. I’m waiting for the day that I can start putting names to the people I’ve mentioned above and go into greater detail. 

Thank you for listening to me today. Pilamaya.

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