Roxanne Smith worked hard to build a stable life for herself and her adult son Roget, who has a developmental disability. She held multiple jobs, including at the human services agency where Roget received services to help him learn to count. She stopped drinking and stayed sober for more than 21 years. She found an apartment near transit. She established a routine to help Roget feel comfortable.
“I did everything I was supposed to do,” she said.
But a few years ago, her world began to crumble. The Illinois budget crisis meant the agency where she worked was months behind paying Roxanne. The owners of the apartment where she lived were going into foreclosure. Already living paycheck to paycheck and with a lack of affordable housing in her community, Roxanne was living on the verge of homelessness and fearing a traumatic disruption to Roget’s routine.
“It was scary,” Roxanne remembered. “Every day you think about ‘What is going to happen to us?’ But I couldn’t let my son see how worried I was.”
One day she came home to find a green bag on her doorstep left by Communities United, a grassroots organization and its Renters Organizing Ourselves to Stay (ROOTS) program. It had information about how to exercise her rights -- and a phone number to call.
ROOTS works with development organizations and other financers, like the Chicago Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation, to purchase foreclosed properties at a discount and keep them affordable for renters.
The group bought Roxanne’s building on the Northwest side of Chicago with help from Enterprise Community Partners and other partners. Roxanne and Roget still live there today.
“It was like somebody gave me the best gift of my life,” she said.
But she knows that many people in the region don’t have access to housing choices they want and need. Recently retired, Roxanne spends time as an advocate with Communities United looking for creative solutions to keep people in their homes and communities.
“I know how it feels to not know where you’re going to go, to not know what’s going to happen in the next 24 hours,” she said. “Nobody should be left behind.”
As a lifelong Chicagoan, Roxanne said in 2050 every resident should be able to afford to live near the parks, schools, jobs, and amenities that they want. “Having a home in the community you love gives people pride. Everyone deserves that,” she said.