The threat of homelessness couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Doctor family.
Or was it, in fact, fortunate timing, if there is such a thing?
The rains were beginning to come just as the family of six was moving its belongings into a storage unit. It was Thursday, Oct. 1, and the lease had run up on the Doctors’ north Columbia apartment.
The home they expected to move into had been rented out to someone else before they were able to put down a deposit, and Mack, Tanika and their four children – Dayquan, Takayla, Nicholas and Jayden – suddenly faced the prospect of living out of a car.
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Their funds to live in an extended-stay hotel only lasted them through the weekend, just as the Columbia area was overwhelmed by historic rainfall and flooding.
“I didn’t want to be homeless,” Tanika Doctor said.
Neither the Family Shelter nor St. Lawrence Place could take the Doctors. Where could they go?
The Doctors weren’t the only ones desperately seeking shelter, as hundreds in Richland and Lexington counties had suddenly been rendered homeless by their flooded houses.
A Red Cross shelter at A.C. Flora High School became the Doctors’ temporary residence, where for the next week they were surrounded by families who had lost everything in the floods.
“Even though I was in a situation myself, my heart was with them,” Tanika Doctor said. “I did go around and talk to some of them and try to give them hope. A lot of them was really down and out and didn’t have any kind of hope.”
The aftermath of the disaster is likely to shed new light and intensity on the ever-present and growing need for affordable housing in the Midlands, as families who have lost residences, income sources or both search for resources to meet their needs.
“We have a dearth of affordable housing, period, and now we have an increase in the need and a compromise in the supply,” said Anita Floyd, vice president for community impact and strategic implementation at United Way of the Midlands.
“Some of the people who have lost their homes won’t have coverage to be able to replace them exactly where and how they were,” Floyd said. And on top of that, “There are people who ... even a short-term interruption in their income is going to toss them into vulnerability.”
For many, recovery aid will not come immediately. Others in need may fall through the cracks of governmental relief efforts. And affordable, short- to medium-term housing resources, already hard to come by for many at vulnerable income levels, may fall short of swollen demands.
For the Doctors, just as desperate for an affordable dwelling of their own, relief came rapidly.
While at the A.C. Flora shelter, the Doctors connected with a Department of Social Services worker who referred them to Family Promise, an initiative to house homeless families with children in local churches. That connection led to another immediate connection with Affordable Housing Resources, a nonprofit that develops and rents homes to low-income families that had just prepared a home in the Rosewood area.
The house was for the taking, and the keys were for the Doctors if they wanted them.
“There’s so many families out there. They could have chosen anybody. But they picked us,” Tanika Doctor said. “I was in awe. I’m actually home.”
With ample rooms to sleep in and even a playground across the street for her young children to play in, the house was a true blessing for her family, Doctor said. They moved in in the middle of last week.
“It’s just a bizarre set of circumstances” that led the Doctors into their new home at this precise time, said GrantDuffield, board president for Affordable Housing Resources, which owns the property and will collect rent from the Doctors. The organization’s mission is to provide housing to families earning 80 percent or less of the area median income at a cost of no more than one-third of their income.
In the past two weeks since the flood, Affordable Housing Resources has received an unprecedented number of calls for help, Duffield said.
“The demand is overwhelming,” he said. “It absolutely exacerbates the latent demand that’s already there.”
The flood has created a need for affordable housing providers and other community partners to adapt their missions to a new, critical need, said Brian Huskey, director of the Midlands Housing Trust Fund, which provides financing and other assistance for the creation and preservation of affordable housing.
“I think there’s just going to be some gaps that hopefully we can find a way to fill,” Huskey said.
One solution the Midlands Housing Trust Fund is exploring is a way to provide fast-track loans to homeowners and landlords looking to rebuild after the flooding.
Other area partners are in the process of exploring recovery possibilities, but first, they have to take the time to comprehend what resources are available to whom and how to avoid unnecessarily duplicating services, Floyd said.
“We’re just getting through the crisis stage,” Floyd said. “We haven’t sorted things out yet, but believe me, people are looking at these things now.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.