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Single working mother Kathy Cooper is being evicted from the house she has rented for four years and has searched in vain for a place she can afford for her and her four children, Amy Calder writes.
Kathy Cooper is shown this week outside her St. Albans home with her children, from left, Zachariah, 2, Malakai, 14, and Eva, 4. Another son, Gabriel, 12, is not shown because he was at football practice. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel
Like a lot of other single working parents, Kathy Cooper is a just a step away from having to live in her car with her kids.
Cooper, 36, of St. Albans, is no slouch.
She works 40 hours a week as a teller at a credit union, grabs any overtime she can get and loves her four children more than anything in the world.
She started renting an old house four years ago with the goal of eventually owning it, something her landlord offered as an option. She pays $875 a month, not including electricity or heat.
But in February her landlord told her that her son was going to buy the house and Cooper had to be out in May. Cooper scrambled, looking for a place she could afford on her salary, which is about $2,500 a month, gross. The landlord then told her she could stay in the house through the winter but left her a message last week saying she had seven days to leave. A deputy sheriff served her an eviction notice.
On Friday, Cooper will head to Skowhegan District Court for an eviction hearing. She doesn’t know what to expect.
“I have been told the judge could give me another 30 days to stay in the house, or he could say I have to leave in 24 hours,” she said. “If it’s 24 hours, I’m pretty much packing up my kids’ clothes and I’m going to have to leave everything behind.”
A mild-mannered, articulate woman, Cooper relayed her situation to me as we sat Tuesday evening in the yard of the home she lives in on Melody Lane in St. Albans. Her two littlest, Eva, 4, and Zachariah, 2, played happily, trekking up and down the wet driveway under a weeping willow and plucking crab apples from a nearby tree.
It would be best, Cooper said, if the family could stay in the area, as Zachariah and Eva’s day care is just across the street from the credit union in Newport where Cooper works. Her sons, Malakai, 14, and Gabriel, 12, are settled in the school system there also.
But she has searched for apartments or houses and the rental costs are beyond her means. Most places want a first and last month’s deposit and an application fee of $55 just to apply. She is stunned by how much rents have skyrocketed.
“The $875 is the highest rent I’ve ever paid, in 18 years,” she said. “Some houses are $1,200 to $2,000 a month, $1,500 to $1,600 with maybe heat included. I’ve looked at places that are $2,000, with maybe nothing included.”
Some places require a tenant to have a certain credit score and make no less than $4,000 a month just to view a property, she said.
“If the rent’s $1,500 a month, you have to make more than $3,000 just to see the place,” she said. “I could afford $1,000 to $1,100 a month, especially if it’s local, but I still couldn’t look at it because I don’t make enough money.”
She receives MaineCare and enough food stamps, she said, and Kennebec Valley Community Action Program has been helping her with rental assistance, so if she does find a place, her rent would be paid through next February.
It has been stressful, heading to work every day wondering if she and her children will have a roof over their heads. Her co-workers at Sebasticook Valley Credit Union have been supportive, pitching housing possibilities her way whenever they arise and trying to keep her spirits up, she said.
Adding to her stress is that she and her husband split up in February, and just three days after her eviction hearing next week, she will be in divorce court. She has worked hard all her life to pay the bills, working 14 1/2 years in accounting at Walmart and two years for Hammond Lumber before landing a position as a teller two years ago at the credit union. It is a job she has always wanted because her mother was a bank teller while she was growing up.
“I love working with numbers,” she said. “I have done two of four years toward an accounting degree and I’d like to continue and complete my bachelor’s degree.”
But that is a dream for another day. Now she must find a home, ideally in the Newport, St. Albans, Hartland, Pittsfield area. Thinking of the alternative brings tears to her eyes.
“I know I’m not the only one struggling,” she said. “At 2 and 4, the little ones don’t know what’s happening, but my 12- and 14-year-olds see me struggle and it doesn’t help them. They watch me break down because of not having a place and they know what’s going on. They don’t want their friends to know they’re living in a hotel or a car — worst case scenario.”
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.
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