By Jess Dankenbring
“I’m fine right here,” says Mrs. Richardson, from her plastic chair on the front porch.
“It’s hard to find places,” she went on. “I don’t want one of those high-rises. I don’t like a lot of people, and I don’t like a high-rise. A high-rise is like being in the hospital—room is too small, too many people. That’s not me. I’m fine right here.”
Ms. Richardson is enjoying the spring weather. She brags about how she just celebrated her 84th birthday, sitting there in her fuzzy purple slippers. She sings in the choir at a big church on First Street in Church Hill and has been in Highland Park for over 30 years.
The house behind her is massive (21 bedrooms and four bathrooms), but we notice that it is split into three separate apartments. She has lived in one of those apartments since 1981. She lives here alone now, but over the years her family lived alongside her.
“My grandson grew up here. He got killed about three years ago. He went to the club, and I didn’t know it. It was a club up there on Franklin Street. I didn’t know what happened until 11 o’clock in the evening. Eleven o’clock. He grew up here, went to Overby-Sheppard. He graduated from John Marshall. He’s gone now. He was nothing but a baby.”
The neighborhood is mostly older women now, and is safe enough, she says. One of her biggest concerns about living in one of these split homes is that the folks collecting rent don’t tell the tenants what is going on. They don’t bother to mention what is going on with the abandoned house next door or the empty sections of the house.
She let us take a peek inside her section of the building. The layout is pretty basic—one long hallway with rooms on the right–hand side. We pass a living room area that has a fireplace filled to the brim with photos of her family. Then two bedrooms and a full bathroom before you reach another living room area and a small kitchen at the back with a door to the backyard. The space is small, but no smaller than your average apartment. There is still plenty of room for multiple couches, beds, and a piano.
“They all look the same,” she says. “Same as mine. And the lady right here [next door] they took up the whole floor and there’s a basement downstairs too. In the kitchen like mine, the whole floor and upstairs the whole floor is out. They were gonna fix it up but they ain’t never did nothing.” So now the apartment next to hers sits empty and unfinished. “Ain’t nobody been there for three years.”
As we see and hear from other residents, many of the larger homes in the neighborhood have long since been converted into multi-family apartments. It suddenly makes an estimated monthly house payment of $1,020 manageable because you can charge the three or four tenants in the house as little as $500/month and have no financial issues. But ownership of these larger houses usually bounces between various businesses every few years. The large home that Ms. Richardson lives in has been owned by three different companies in the past five years.
But she’s staying put, come what may. “I’m fine right here.”