The story of Kellie R. Watson (pictured) and her fight with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Illinois paints the tale of a growing scandal 12 years in the making.
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Ms. Watson and her son, Kyle, were crime victims in April 2000, which led to the family receiving Social Security disability benefits. Because of her disability standing, Ms. Watson was qualified for a HUD grant and was later approved by the agency and former Republican senator Peter Fitzgerald for the funds.
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While HUD was reportedly attempting to locate housing for Watson and her son and placed them in a hotel, the grant was mishandled and threw her housing situation into limbo. Watson was never placed into a HUD home, although she did receive $1900 per month for a brief time which helped her and Kyle secure temporary, short term housing. The money would dry up, leading to an illegal eviction from the property in 2010. Forced to live in squalor in a dilapidated apartment, Watson and her son dealt with the awful conditions of the living space until the brutal Chicago winter motivated them to take residence in a friend’s basement that same year.
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NewsOne had a brief chat with Ms. Watson about her fight with HUD who, without an attorney’s assistance, had her case heard in civil court all the way to the Supreme Court.
NewsOne: How is that you were qualified for the HUD funds and, even with a senator’s blessing, still ran into roadblocks?
Ms. Watson: My son and I were qualified for these funds based on our Social Security benefits status and the fact that we were victims of a crime that left as homeless as a result. Unfortunately, you have to have a provider and what happens is when you receive any type of entitlement or earmarked funds, and that provider allows that money to disappear, people like my son and I, end up homeless.
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We didn’t have direct access to the funds. Our providers were here in the city of Chicago, it was called the “Shelter Plus Care” program. The program took our information, took our housing grant money, and shoved us into one of their programs and now we’re currently in our friend’s basement. We’ve been going into a vicious circle dealing with HUD. We’ve gone through every step and procedure from here to Washington, D.C.
NewsOne: When the courts got involved, tell us a bit about what transpired?
Ms. Watson: I did everything I was supposed to do under the law, and nothing happened. I’ve been run around in complete circles by everyone. I’ve had HUD inspectors tell me they were supposed to come check the places they’ve placed us in. They placed us in some of the worst conditions. I’m not sure why federal funds were being paid to the owners of these properties because they weren’t in compliance. And the moment you, the tenant, complains, you’re the one held in fault. In fact, you’re normally put out of the program. It’s absolutely frightening. So when I went to complain, I sent a notarized letter about the conditions of the apartment we lived in. We were not supposed to be there forever; we were only there until we found a home. And that’s what the funds were for. I took my complaints to the director of the Shelter Plus Care program and, less than two weeks later, I’m terminated from the program saying I was out of compliance.
No investigation took place and I tried to get help. Our providers stopped paying our rent. The conditions were atrocious. Who lives with mice and roaches, broken windows, water leaks? If you complained, you were subject to whatever retaliation they saw fit.
NewsOne: You said in an earlier report that HUD mysteriously lost your paperwork that showed you were qualified. What happened when you challenged them on that point?
Ms. Watson: I’ve heard it all. “Ms. Watson, we’re trying to locate your HUD housing grant.” “Ms. Watson, what do you know about this grant and how do you know they’re connected to paying your rent?” Ms. Watson, this isn’t something we normally do.” Our circumstances were so extreme, I kept trying. I went to state court and federal court. The state judge said because I had a federal grant, he would send my case back to the state Supreme Court because of my crime victim status. Now when I went back, the clerk of the Court magically lost my paperwork. Just because you’ve been outmaneuvered, it doesn’t mean you’re telling the truth about my documents.
NewsOne: You seem to have a command of all the inner workings of the law, which is amazing considering you don’t have a degree in the field. Even with that, how can anyone fight such injustice?
Ms. Watson: Well, I only know so much because I had to teach myself. And anyone who has to go up against state and local government knows that you have to be sharper than normal. But I’m still ignorant to all of the inner workings of the law. I’m still trying to figure things out but what I do know for sure is that my rights have been violated and all of these so-called officials don’t know where our money is or our paperwork.
I go to elected officials and state my case and in return they say, “We’re friends with HUD, they’ll take care of you.” But when I contact you as a constituent and an American, the last thing you need to tell me over the phone is that you’re friendly with the people who obviously stole what was due to me or did something with this money that I do not have. Much less, tell me, “Do NOT call Senator Durbin’s office again!”
Ms. Watson said later in the conversation that she doesn’t think she’s asking for a grandiose amount of money. All that she wants for her and her son Kyle, who is now an engineering student at the University of Illinois of Chicago, is a 2-bedroom home. Despite the stresses of the legal battle with HUD, Ms. Watson remains optimistic that justice will be served as her case gains further traction. Still, the harrowing details of mismanagement, corruption and government meddling are all harsh truths many in the country are facing during an important election year for both Republicans and Democrats.
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