A promising new initiative to house returning citizens

January 24th, 2019
Starry Carter in his apartment at Southwest Solutions' Ferndale building.

Starry Carter was looking for a new start in life. The worst was behind him, and the best was still ahead, even at 62 years old, he thought. What he needed was a chance to prove that he was indeed a changed man.

So, last fall, Starry enrolled in the small business training course offered by ProsperUS Detroit, a program of Southwest Solutions. In the first class, Starry filled out a questionnaire about what other services he may need. He indicated “transportation” and “housing.”

Shortly thereafter, Starry received a call from Devin Kuziel with ProsperUS. Devin inquired further about the barriers that Starry faced to find proper housing. Starry spoke about his felony conviction for drug offenses in 1985, for which he was incarcerated for 18 months. The conviction and subsequent violations made it difficult for him to secure affordable or subsidized housing.

Devin connected Starry with Anna Kohn at RecoveryPark, which is known for helping returning citizens overcome barriers to employment and housing. Anna had helped arrange a unique partnership with the Housing division of Southwest Solutions. The partnership is called the Housing Support Platform (HSP). It provides opportunities for eligible returning citizens to apply for affordable units in apartment buildings that Southwest Solutions owns and manages in the Springwells area in southwest Detroit. In the HSP model, RecoveryPark provides support services to help the applicant qualify for and then maintain successful housing.

Anna thought that Starry would be a good candidate for the HSP initiative.

“Starry was really seeking to better his life and there was an urgency to get him housed, otherwise he was going to be homeless,” Anna said. “I told him to fill out the housing application, and then don’t be discouraged when the initial rejection letter comes because of the felony conviction. The HSP allows for a path forward through submitting an affidavit and going through an appeals process.”

With Anna’s help, Starry composed his affidavit to plead his case.

“Since 2008, I have been clean and sober,” Starry wrote. “I cannot afford to go back to an addictive lifestyle, a degrading feeling. I want to live a normal life, but in order to do that, I need stable housing. I think everyone deserves a second chance. I am gainfully employed and I am ready to live independently while I maintain my strong and supportive family and church. I know I can make it, if only I’m given the opportunity.”

After his affidavit and appeals session, Starry’s application was approved. He moved into his one-bedroom apartment in early December. He lives in the Ferndale building along Vernor near Lawndale Street. The building includes a Detroit Public Library branch on the ground floor.

“I feel at home here,” Starry said. “It’s nice and quiet. Having a place of my own has improved my life tremendously.”

Starry’s monthly rent is $463. His income derives from Social Security payments and the work he does for his cousin’s home improvement company. He has a lot of experience in construction. His father worked in the profession, and Starry took carpentry workshops during his prison term.

“Looking back, I have to see the bright side of the bad times in my life,” Starry said. “Being incarcerated took me away from the terrible things I was doing and rescued me from going down a worse road. I acquired my GED and some skills in prison. I also did a lot of soul searching.”

After prison, Starry took classes and became certified as a nursing assistant. He worked in the field for a dozen years, until a change in Michigan statutes restricted the ability of felons to take up the occupation. After that, Starry had a hard time finding steady work because of his criminal record. In the years to come, he had other run-ins with the law related to drugs.

“When I had work, I didn’t have a problem, but when I was out of work and couldn’t pay my bills, I would get depressed and desperate,” Starry said.

Starry received probation for these offenses. After his last one in 2005, the judge gave him a final chance and sent him to a drug treatment center instead of jail. Starry felt inspired by this merciful act, and he rededicated himself to rehabilitating his life.

He went to work for a church, doing driving and maintenance. He also worked for a staffing agency to piece together enough income to make ends meet.

In 2010, he became a member of Peace Baptist Church in Hamtramck. Three years later, he was baptized there. At Peace, he met a parishioner with whom he felt a spiritual connection. They are now engaged and are planning to marry this fall.

Starry is also planning to resume the ProsperUS program. He was unable to complete the course before because of transportation issues. He still aspires to start his own small business. What the business may be is still evolving.

“I have a lot to look forward to this year,” Starry said. “I feel royally blessed.”

 


The Housing Support Platform has an initial goal of housing up to 25 returning citizens in Southwest Solutions’ apartment buildings in the Springwells area, with the hope of housing even more as the partnership between RecoveryPark and Southwest Solutions continues. Eligible applicants must have an annual income of at least $25,000, have no evictions on their credit history, have a Social Security card and State ID, pay a $25 application fee, and have available funds to pay a $99 security deposit and the first month’s rent. For more information on the HSP, email Anna.

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