PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Moving into her five-bedroom, three-story rowhouse near West Girard Avenue was an emotional day for Ricci Rawls.
“I can’t even describe, I can’t even explain — I’m trying not to cry,” she said.
At 32 years old, this is the first place Rawls has called home — a permanent, affordable one, at that — since she was 18.
“We stayed on the streets, stayed on family members’ floors when shelters were full because I got so many kids,” she said. “I used to panhandle outside of Dunkin’ Donuts and used the money to pay for hotels. Yeah, panhandling kept us off of the streets most nights.”
The generosity of others and the desire to keep her children together motivated Rawls to keep fighting.
That generosity expands to the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA). Through its program, Rawls’ house is highly subsidized, allowing her to pay just 30% of her income.
“This is the living room, where all the playing and studying will be happening,” she smiled while showing off the newly renovated house. “This is the dining room, where we can all sit down and eat like a real family.”
It even has a small back patio where the children — 14-year-old Patience, 9-year-old Charles, 7-year-old Isabella, 5-year-old Ava, and 3-year-old Faith — can play.
“Now we don’t have to move back and forth,” Patience said. “I can now keep my friends.”
Patience will get her own room. Ava and Isabella will share one.
“I love my room,” added Charles. “I love it here. It’s beautiful and clean and we never have to move again.”
“Everybody deserves a home,” said Rashidah Perry-Jones, spokesperson for SELF, Inc., a private nonprofit that operates the 38 permanent, affordable housing units and provides support to the families who live there.
The program includes both families and individuals.
“Families will live in one unit alone,” she said. “When we bring in single adults, multiple individuals will share a unit.”
The effort is part of a partnership with a number of city agencies, including PHA, the Office of Homeless Services, and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.
For permanent supportive housing, city agencies subsidize the cost of rent for those who need housing help. However, the subsidized units are tough to get. Currently, 80,000 people are on the PHA waiting list for public housing.
“There’s not enough affordable housing in our housing,” Perry-Jones said. “We have people who live in our emergency housing sites who get up and go to work every day and cannot afford the housing.”
The houses are owned by PHA, but SELF, Inc. came in and renovated the properties.
“They came in, cleaned it up and fixed up the backyard,” Perry-Jones added. “They made it into something these families can be proud of.”
It’s been a journey for Rawls, but the wait is finally over.
“This is nothing but God,” she said. “We made it.”