By SAMARA SODOS | News Channel 8
Published: March 2, 2010
TAMPA – The storm that has engulfed homeowners and the housing industry in recent years has taken a harsh toll on untold numbers of Floridians. Half of Tampa Bay homeowners are underwater on their mortgage. Foreclosure cases are clogging local courthouses.
And then there is Allen Rhodes. One day he’s living in Tampa with his girlfriend and her daughter. The next, they are kicked out of their rented apartment and virtually everything he owns is gone.
For the next two months, he lives in his 1991 Honda Prelude.
Through no fault of his own.
Rhodes’ woes began in early January. He came back from out of town to find he had no apartment.
The finance company had foreclosed on the apartment he rented on West Gray Street, and Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies had enforced an eviction order.
Rhodes said he had sensed problems with the landlord and the property for months but never thought the situation was serious because he never received an official eviction notice.
There was no doubt, though, that he had been evicted. The apartment was empty – no clothes, no furniture, no personal belongings.
He thinks everything he owned might have been taken out to the curb and left there.
“I saw people wearing my clothes right after I was kicked out,” Rhodes said.
At 39, Rhodes was suddenly homeless.
“I’m not trying to get emotional, but it’s real, it’s real,” Rhodes said. “For me to be out here, a man, in this car, I thought I had a home. Everything I worked for, not just the two years I occupied this apartment. Everything I had. Even my shower curtain. They took my (expletive) shower curtain and told me there’s nothing I can do.”
With nowhere else to go, he lived out of his car.
“This is my house right now,” Rhodes said one day last week, motioning toward the Prelude. The car was parked on North A Street in front of a friend’s place.
With a lot of time to ponder his situation, Rhodes started to think this was about karma. He had served more than 16 and half years for convictions involving drugs, robbery, and assaulting a jail guard. Since his release from jail, he’s been picked up on several charges, though most were dropped or reduced.
He held a steady job at Whaley’s Market until the store closed. Now he tries to make ends meet doing lawn work and the few jobs that are available for convicted felons.
Maybe, he thought, he was being punished for his past mistakes.
“I know people are going to have their judgment,” Rhodes said. “But judge me as a United States citizen that’s paid his rent.”
Rhodes shopped for a lawyer to take his case for weeks, and finally found Paul Rebein, who appeared with Rhodes before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Robert Foster last week.
Court records show that the mortgage provider, Chase Home Finance, notified the other tenants about the impending eviction, but not Rhodes. Foster ordered Chase Home Finance to allow Rhodes back in the Gray Street apartment, at least for now.
He also ordered the finance company and Rebein to try to work out a way to reimburse Rhodes for the possessions he lost. Lawyers will work out a deal in the coming days.
After the hearing, Rebein called it a small victory for people affected by the housing crisis through no fault of their own.
“When Chase went broke, they came to the government and said they were too big to fail, but I guess they were too big to care in this case and Mr. Rhodes was too poor to matter,” Rebein said.
Rhodes won the latest round of the legal battle and allowed to return to his old apartment, but life is still far from what it was.
Some of the walls had been kicked in, and the appliances and toilet didn’t work. He was forced to use the few pieces of clothing he had to cover the windows. The emptiness was a reminder of everything he had lost.
But the electricity still worked and kept him warm. And the floor was better than sleeping in a car, even if his pillow was a plastic bag with a shirt stuffed inside, and his bedding was a pair of pants.
He doesn’t have the girlfriend anymore.
“She thinks it’s my fault,” Rhodes said. “I ain’t done nothing but rent an apartment from a landlord.”
Reporter Samara Sodos can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org