Louisville Magazine

MAR 2017

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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66 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 3.17 A little bluff of spilled sugar dusts one corner of the kitchen table, grains of sweetness just along the edges of the tabletop's stone-like tiles, so close to slipping into the little black cracks between. Stacie Oates eases into a seat and sets her mug down. She wears a striped hoodie, gray and deeper gray, and sweatpants. With petite revolutions of her wrist she spoon-stirs her coffee, though the creamer and sugar have already dissolved. "It doesn't take much when you're living paycheck to paycheck," she says. "It takes nothing for the bottom to drop from up under you." So far the bottom has dropped from up under her at least six or seven times, if you're counting the homes she's lost. More if you count the jobs, a vehicle or two. en there's the house she lived in with holes in the floor hiding beneath the carpet like mines — the bottom not drop- ping, just gone. And then there's her legs. It was May 2012, and Oates was working on the cleanup crew at a wedding reception. Rather than wait around for the revelry to smolder, Oates decided to grab a nap at the house she was renting with her daughter on River Park Drive in Shawnee — about four homes ago, though Oates sometimes loses count. When she woke up, she couldn't move. "I found out I had something called spondylolisthesis," she says, her spoon still clinking. Spondylolisthesis is a condi- tion in which a vertebra slips forward over the bone below, causing back pain and weakness and numbness in the legs. But Oates wouldn't skip work. "ere's nothing worse than saying you're going to do something and then don't do it," she tells me. She managed to "scooch" back to the reception, "which I had to look crazy, now that I think about it, with the limited mobility," she says. She couldn't keep it up forever and started missing shifts. "One time was like a week or so. Next time was like a month," she says. "When your back goes out on you, that's what happens, you know what I'm saying? You're done. You're done." e 45-year-old has to wear a back brace and knee brace when she runs errands. She has had lower-lumbar injections, epidurals, has participated in aqua therapy and takes a cocktail of pills every day, but her back still pains her. Oates' daughter, Danielle, steps into the kitchen in a bright red hoodie and match- ing sweats, looking for her favorite mug. "It's probably in there on the backside of all those dishes," Oates tells her. "I know it's in there." Danielle casts me a sideways look, the half eye roll, half smile only women in their mid-20s can perform. "She steals my cup," Danielle says. "I didn't steal it; I washed it!" Oates says. She looks around the table and notices my coffee. "Oh, I gave it to Dylon." Cue laugh track. Danielle shakes her head, a shy grin painting her face, grabs a different mug and disappears down the hallway. After so many moves, it's hard to hold on to the kind of minutiae that makes up that feeling of permanence you find at home. ough Oates and Danielle have lived in this three-bedroom apartment near 17th and Jefferson streets in the Russell neighborhood since March of last year — when the Urban League helped Oates work to improve her credit and find a place despite several evictions on her record — Danielle still has not hung anything on the walls, anticipating another move. "at is the part that scares me," Oates says. But there's a lot more to be afraid of. Oates has been denied assistance from the Social Security Administration on the grounds that her condition does not qual- ify as a disability. She wants to fight the decision, but she's not sure how. Danielle's job at Kroger is the only income for the two of them. e apartment's ceiling soars — I estimate at least 12 feet — and Oates says her LG&E bills have reached $285 a month. Add that to the $646 in rent, and it's too much to handle. Oates has applied for Section 8 housing but says she may not hear anything about that until Septem- ber. "We will have to move or be evicted, because we can't afford it," she says. Oates' story is hardly unique. According to U.S. Census data from 2015, the vast majority of residencies in Oates' current ZIP code (40203) are rentals: 7,677 compared with 1,309 owner-occupied homes. Approximately 66 percent of renters live on yearly household incomes of less than $20,000. About 32 percent of them paid between $500 and $799 for rent each month. (e public-housing complex Beecher Terrace is in 40203, which includes portions of downtown, Smoketown and Old Louisville.) Accord- ing to Kevin Dunlap, executive director of REBOUND, an organization affiliated with the Urban League that builds or re- furbishes housing in west Louisville, there's a shortage of affordable rental housing in the area — or, rather, "affordable livable housing." Dunlap mentions issues like lead contamination, and also poor insulation, which can lead to higher utility costs, which can lead to unpaid bills, which can lead to eviction, which prevents people from finding new places to rent. "It creates a cycle," he says. ough it would seem more accurate to call it a corridor that opens onto the street. When Oates talks about getting evicted again, she doesn't seem sad or even afraid, exactly. She seems resigned, her lips pressed firmly together. "Here we go again," she tells me. When she tries to remember the narrative of her many moves, she gets lost in the street maps in her mind, and somehow finds herself in multiple places at once. She's on Indian Trail in Newburg, but she's also paralyzed on the couch on River Park Drive, the latter address owned by an elderly woman who had it managed by a rental company. Oates would get behind on rent, eviction proceedings would start, and then she'd catch up on the rent, plus late fees, only to fall behind again. She's on River Park but also in a house on 36th Street. Oates says she always felt safe growing up in west Louisville in the Cotter and Lang projects, what is now Park DuValle. She says properties owned by the Metro Housing Authority at least had consistent standards. "ey don't play, you know? If the chip of paint on the wall doesn't look right — 'Fix that, we'll come back.' at

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