Desiree Mosley fends off anxiety as she worries about finding a suitable place for her family to live.

“I wake up in a panic some mornings — just a general panic,” she said.

Her husband, Isreal, and their children, Morgan, 13, and Leander, 5, have lived with her in their Waterville apartment more than five years. But there are problems.

Isreal and Desiree Mosley, with their children, Morgan, 13, and Leander, 5, on the porch of their Waterville apartment Tuesday. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

The walls are cracking, there’s water dripping inside the walls and the furnace hasn’t worked for weeks, so they use electric space heaters and blankets to stay warm. Beyond that, there’s a contraption in the cellar made of two sawed off trees and slats used to hold up the living room floor above it. The top shelf in their kitchen cabinet has to be held up with cans of food because the walls shifted. There are even cracks in the bathtub.

“I literally am scared that this place is going to fall in on us,” Desiree said.

The Mosleys, whom I visited Tuesday, have complained to the landlord but nothing has been fixed, they said. They have looked four years for a different apartment, house or trailer, but the search has proved exhausting and fruitless. Most places want more than they can afford.

They pay $900 a month, heat included, for rent now on their three-bedroom, two-floor apartment. They pay another $250 for electricity. They could pay about $1,200 a month for another apartment or house, but it would have to include heat.

Both have been working full-time, public-facing jobs during the pandemic. Israel, 31, works as a front desk manager at a motel; Desiree, 37, works in construction, is employed at a retail store, and sells handmade soap. Still, they are barely getting by. Most landlords will take only people who earn three times the rent price, they said.

“That’s just impossible, even with both of us working,” Desiree said. “It’s not because we don’t work hard — because we do work hard. They don’t want to rent to working Mainers. They want to rent to out of state people who can work remotely at their big-dollar jobs. I want a house so bad. I have worked my butt off and I just want a house to give to my kids, not a rental. It feels unattainable, and it hurts.”

The Mosleys want to stay in Waterville, where Isreal is involved in many volunteer activities and where Desiree’s aunt babysits their son while they work.

“I’m the one that is keeping us here — I’m completely honest about that,” Isreal said. “I work with the community a lot. I’m the chair of the policy council at Educare and I’m the chair of the Waterville Democratic Committee. I’m also a parent ambassador at Educare and I’m working with housing tenants to basically do the same thing we’re trying to do with our landlord here — to prove our conditions. So far, I’ve managed to keep one person from being evicted because of what amounted to a hearsay complaint.”

Desiree, who is secretary for the Waterville Democratic Committee, supports her husband in his efforts.

“If I see a place where I can do for other people, I jump in and do what I can,” she said.

The city, which Mayor Jay Coelho says has a housing crisis, has formed a housing committee to assess its housing stock. Isreal wants to become a member.

“I have been saying for years that if you just let someone create $1,000 studio apartments in the city where three-bedrooms are $900 a month then you’re just going to inflate prices, and the only way to deflate those prices is to increase affordable housing directly,” he said. “We need an investment in affordable housing.”

As it is, landlords require new tenants to pay first and last month’s rent and a security deposit, up front, if the rent is, say, $1,500 a month — for a total of about $4,500, according to Isreal.

“Places like Chicago have done things to stop that problem, like capping moving costs to just last month’s rent and security deposit with the option to pay the security deposit over six months so that way, it’s not $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 to move in,” he said.

Desiree said they recently found a new apartment and packed most of their belongings, but the deal fell through after the tenants didn’t move to Florida as planned.

“They can’t evict them, and they’ve not paid their rent,” she said. “So, we’re sitting here, packed up, with the world falling around us.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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