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Faces of the Grand Rapids housing crisis: Karla Monterusso

In this five-part series, residents of the greater Grand Rapids area share their personal stories of housing insecurity and homelessness. Part 3.
Karla Monterusso didn't earn enough to meet the low-income housing requirements.

Karla Monterusso didn't earn enough to meet the low-income housing requirements. /Amy Carpenter

Grand Rapids Homes for All met last Friday night at Baxter Community Center to talk about the housing crisis and gentrification in Grand Rapids. In this meeting, residents had an opportunity to join the Tenant Union, brainstorm ideas about housing solutions in Grand Rapids, and share their stories in preparation for the upcoming City Commission meeting. Amy Carpenter talked to several people who have experienced housing insecurity or homelessness and they asked her to share their stories.

Karla Monterusso felt so much stress last summer that she couldn't sleep.

After living in an apartment complex for five years, "they sent me a letter saying they didn't want to renew my lease." Monterusso wasn't sure what triggered the letter. For years, "I was allowed to smoke inside. Then they asked me to smoke outside, but my room didn't have a patio. I asked about maybe moving to a room with a patio, so I could smoke outside more easily." She received the letter soon after. 

Instead of the typical 30 days to vacate, Monterusso was given three months. She appreciated the leniency.

But finding a new place proved near impossible. Monterusso looked everyday for nearly the whole three months.

"Every apartment I looked at said they would take my Section 8 housing voucher, which I get because of disabilities." But the prices were still high. "They wanted my income to be three times the rent and utilities." Monterusso lives on a fixed income. "I'm on Social Security Disability. Even including food stamps and my housing voucher, I don't meet the requirement. I also didn't have money for the security deposit. None of the agencies would help me because I wasn't yet homeless and I didn't have a court-ordered eviction."

Monterusso finally found a place that could take her, because they included the gas utitility bill in the rent. Since her voucher would pay for that, it wasn't counted as an expense against the rest of her income.

For Monterusso, who struggles with mental illness, the threat of homelessness caused her enormous stress and a mental health crisis. "I was acting out and self-harming. It was really hard."


Part 1: Minnie Dentmond

Part 2: Carla Dentmond

Part 4: Joyce Daniels

Part 5: Chanae Jackson


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