Katrina leaves family without home — twice

First evacuated, now evicted, a family from New Orleans struggles to find a place to call home.
Monday, October 3, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:00 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Wallace family spent Sunday morning driving around Columbia looking for a new place to live. With the classifieds open across the front seat, Xiomara Wallace went down the list looking for a place that would let them move in that afternoon.

After evacuating New Orleans almost a month ago, Wallace and her daughter, Maya, moved to Columbia to stay temporarily with Wallace’s daughter, Bea, a graduate student at MU. That plan was cut short over the weekend when Bea Wallace’s landlord wrote the family a note saying Bea Wallace’s mother and sister would have to move out Saturday.

Rob Alongi of Uptown RPM LLC informed Bea Wallace that her mother and sister would have to move out of the rented room at 401 N. Eighth St. because two other tenants threatened to break their lease because of the extra people in the house.

In a letter dated Sept. 28 that was posted on the stairs of the house, Alongi explained that in addition to Bea Wallace’s mother and sister, another tenant had his parents living with him. It said that the four additional people living in the house were causing less privacy and an increased utility bill.

“I have tried to work with consideration for refugees as I would hope people would with me, given the same circumstances,” Alongi wrote. “Unfortunately, there is the law. The only legal means I have for removing residents not on the lease is by serving a trespass warrant with the sheriff.”

Alongi wrote that Xiomara and Maya Wallace had overstayed the five-day guest period on the lease and would have to move out. He did not return phone calls Sunday.

Xiomara and Maya Wallace had moved in with Bea Wallace on Sept. 7 and intended to move out as soon as Xiomara Wallace found a job and a permanent place to live.

Xiomara Wallace was hired last week by an insurance agency to process hurricane claims and has been working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. She said she intended to move out when she received her first paycheck this Friday.

James Rosser has lived in the house for four years and said he was unaware of the situation until he read the note left by Alongi. Rosser said tenants can’t complain when rules are listed in the lease.

“They had a lease and they knew what the rules were,” Rosser said. “It’s crowded with five people living here, let alone eight, especially since there are only three bathrooms.”

Darin Enderton, another tenant, said the house was kind of crowded, but the extra people hadn’t bothered him.

“As far as the bathrooms, I was imposing more on them than they were on me,” Enderton said.

Maya Wallace is a high school senior who had missed two weeks of school before moving to Columbia and enrolling in Hickman High School.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” Maya Wallace said. “We came here with a bag of clothes, but we’ve accumulated things as we go. It was a pretty small room, but we managed to fit everything into it.”

Maya Wallace said that she talked with most of the tenants while staying there and that no one complained to her about the living arrangement.

Xiomara Wallace thought it was humorous that the landlord complained about the extra use of the kitchen and bathroom space. She compared herself to a lab rat with scientists closely examining when she ate or went to the bathroom.

“We were eating out every night, but I felt that was wasting the money the government gave me, so I used the kitchen,” Xiomara Wallace said.

Bea Wallace said she had talked with Alongi the day before her family arrived in Columbia and explained the situation.

“He wasn’t happy, but he said until they found a place, it could work,” she said.

Alongi tried to rent the family a second room, but Bea Wallace wasn’t impressed.

“When you are a mother and daughter, you don’t want to share a kitchen with other people,” she said.

Bea Wallace may break her lease because she cannot afford to pay for her own apartment as well as a place for her family. When the Wallaces searched Sunday for a place to live, they did so anticipating that she would move in, too. In the meantime, the Red Cross is putting the family up at a local hotel.

Xiomara Wallace said she will not go back to New Orleans and plans to stay in Columbia permanently.

“I hope Maya goes to college here, and I’d like to get a degree,” Xiomara Wallace said, “but right now, my head is not too clear. I’ve got other things to think about.”

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