This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.
By Richard H. Weiss
Last weekend, Kim Daniel’s prospects never seemed so bleak.
After spending two months in hospitals and rehab centers, and two more weeks fretting, fuming and living in a hotel room, Daniel had to wait and wonder. When would the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development act on her request for an increase in the value of her Section 8 voucher so she could move out of her increasingly dangerous neighborhood into a safer and more secure apartment complex?
She had no reason to believe it would happen anytime soon. Nothing had come quickly for Daniel as she pursued her quest to find a safe place to live.
She had waited 10 years for the voucher, which provides a subsidy to rent a market-rate unit in St. Louis and St. Louis County. When the voucher finally came last summer, she had to search high and low for an apartment that suited her needs. It took her three months to find a unit in a recently renovated apartment complex called the Georgian near Lafayette Square.
But then Daniel encountered a welter of misfortune. On Nov. 30, she nearly died of blood clots in her abdomen, legs and upper left ventricle that sent her to the emergency room and then into surgery. After more surgery and several weeks in rehab centers, Daniel now requires a wheelchair and a walker to get around. The Georgian had a handicapped-accessible unit, but it was more costly. When Daniel requested more financial support from the St. Louis Housing Authority, which administers the Section 8 program, initially she got a no.
It took weeks to persuade the Housing Authority to reverse its stance, and then the Housing Authority needed to get an OK from HUD to make it work.
While the government was on its own clock, time was running out for Daniel. Her sister, Kenvee Daniel, Kim’s tireless caretaker and advocate, had to return home to Hawaii by the end of the month or lose her job. Since Kim’s release from a rehabilitation center, Kenvee with the help of family and close friends had been footing a $92-a-night hotel bill for the two of them.
Over the weekend, Kenvee kept pumping out emails to the Housing Authority asking for answers. And then the two of them sent up their prayers.
Call it a miracle. Or perhaps this is just a case in which the federal government and local authorities did their jobs with the appropriate amount of urgency. On Monday afternoon, Daniel received the authorization she needed to move into the Georgian.
On Tuesday, she signed a lease. And on Wednesday, with her family doing the heavy lifting, she moved into her handicapped-accessible unit. For the first time in 3½ months, she will have a place to call home.
“I am just going to roll around and put my hands on things and just enjoy the fact that I am finally there,” Daniel said on Tuesday shortly after signing her lease.
Daniel’s journey to The Georgian can be seen either as a happy ending or maybe just a breather in a life continually at risk.
Daniel was born 55 years ago with a congenital heart defect that had taken her to death’s door several times. Given her condition, she couldn’t hold down a full-time job. She needed to depend on health and benefits through federal health care and anti-poverty programs.
Circumstances forced her to move into the Preservation Square neighborhood with its subsidized housing complex in 2003. There, Daniel became a pillar of her community. But increasingly, she felt unsafe. In April 2020, a gunshot was fired into her unit through the wall of a neighboring unit. A young man she had been mentoring was murdered last summer barely more than a hundred yards from her unit.
The Section 8 voucher represented a golden ticket out of Preservation Square. When she found the Georgian in a safer neighborhood, with secure amenities, with a nice grocery store down the street, and a location just a mile from where she worked, it seemed almost too good to be true. But then came her illness and a frustrating snarl of government red tape.
On Monday afternoon, quite suddenly, the waters parted for Daniel. Today, she is filled with nothing but gratitude for:
- Her family members, who “consoled me and prayed for me.”
- Management at the Georgian who kept her apartment open while Kenvee helped her demand cooperation from government and health care administrators.
- Officials at the St. Louis Housing Authority who were at first difficult to deal with but then championed her cause with HUD.
Daniel emailed a thank-you and a picture of herself in her new unit to all the government officials involved in her case.
Her friends can continue to keep current with Daniel on her Facebook page, which leads with her mantra:
The height is intimidating
The climb is steep
Every step U make
U’r soul becomes FREE!
Don’t give up.
Before Ferguson Beyond Ferguson, a nonprofit racial equity project, is telling the story of families in 63106 one by one over the course of the pandemic. St. Louis Public Radio published the first chapter in Daniel’s life on April 28, 2020, and this is the seventh. You can find an archive of her stories and other family stories at https://rcjf.org/63106-project/