[Hpn] Almost homeless, but not hopeless

wtinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sat, 2 Jun 2001 08:39:09 -0400

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                      Saturday, June 2, 2001

                      Almost homeless, but not hopeless

                      By DAVID CONNERTY-MARIN, Portland Press Herald Writer

                      Copyright  2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

  Patrice Cota has four kids and a vacate-the-premises notice.

 She has undergone two surgeries for breast cancer in the past year, and has
cerebral palsy. She is legally disabled and does not work.
 Jack Milton                                   Patrice Cota and her sons,
from left, Abel, Nicholas, Vincent and Ryan, in their outer Congress Street
apartment. They have been told to vacate in order to make room for the new
owner of the building.

 The new owner of her building on outer Congress Street, across from the
Westgate Shaw's, gave her until May 31 to move out.

 For 35 days Cota has called owners of some 40 apartment buildings and gone
to visit some, with no luck.

 Landlords have told her they don't want to rent to someone with four kids.
One told her to give away custody of two and he would rent to her. He was

 Cota is not the only one having a hard time finding a place to live.
According to Mark Adelson, the city's housing director, the current vacancy
rate for rentals is below 2 percent. And having a large family makes it even

 "She's in a circumstance that's one of the most difficult in this extremely
difficult market," Adelson said.

 The city, which has helped immigrant families find housing in the past, is
now working with landlords in Lewiston to accommodate their larger families.
The lack of apartments and the high rents have forced families to move to
Biddeford, Lewiston and elsewhere.

 The three-unit apartment building where Cota lives was bought by Yun Hatt
on April 25. Hatt visited Cota three days later, apologized, and gave her
notice. Hatt said the bank mortgage she signed requires her to live in the
house she purchased.

 "I didn't want to move in," she said. "The bank wanted me to move in."

 Cota, who paid $700 a month for the apartment, is cheerful despite her
circumstances. She refuses to criticize the new owner, though she thinks she
should have been given more time to find a place.

 "I'm not really angry at anybody. I'm just trying to figure out (what to do
next)," she said on Thursday, hours before she was supposed to be out.

 Adelson said nothing in the law prevents a new owner from giving a tenant
30 days to move. And while landlords cannot refuse to rent simply because
someone has kids, they can refuse to rent if they believe their apartments
are too small for a large family such as Cota's.

 Cota, who receives disability income and child support, has not been
without help. Staff, teachers and parents at Hall School, where three of her
sons go to school, have helped in many ways.

 They made meals for her when she was recovering from surgery. A school
social worker often drops the kids off at the Boys and Girls Club after
school; the school nurse brings them home a couple of hours later.

 Several people pitched in to enroll Cota's youngest son in a day care based
at Hall School. A parent delivered a stove to replace one that no longer
worked and accepted no money when she offered.

 "She's a great parent and they're fantastic kids," said Beverly Holloway,
the social worker. "One hundred percent of her income goes to her kids and
on the rent."

 Holloway said Cota is clearly dedicated to her children. She is involved at
the school and the kids are well-behaved, helpful and polite. Two of them
received awards at the Boys and Girls Club last week.

 She shudders to think that Cota and her kids could end up in a shelter.

 "We feel we've developed a nice relationship with the boys who are now
probably going to go to school in (another town) next year," said Amanda
Rowe, the school nurse.

 Rowe expressed frustration with the tight housing market.
 "I think she's just the tip of the iceberg of people trying to find a
decent place to live for a reasonable amount of money," Rowe said.

 At Cota's apartment, everything but a few necessities is packed in boxes
stacked in the kitchen, dining room, two bedrooms and the living room that
has been converted to a bedroom.

 Her boys -- Abel, 12; Nicholas, 9; Vincent, 8; and Ryan, 5 -- hang out
comfortably in the kitchen, passing a Sunkist soda. Abel helps throw laundry
in the washing machine.

 They laugh and smile, and offer a tour of their home.

 They are not thrilled with the apartment, with its cracked ceilings and
malfunctioning light fixtures. They wouldn't mind a change.

 "I don't care if we live in a car," Nicholas said, with the ease of a

 And then he and Vincent are off to Rollerblade in the small paved driveway
behind the house.

 On Thursday, Cota visited an apartment renting for $900 a month in
Scarborough, and unlike many, the landlord let her fill out an application.
She is supposed to hear back by Monday.

 In the meantime, she's staying where she is as long as she can.

 "I don't have a choice," she said. "It's illegal, but am I supposed to take
my kids out on the street?"

David Connerty-Marin can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: