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From her June 2012 speech at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

I’m Abria Adams.  I’m a freshman at West Potomac High School.  I moved from Southeast Washington DC to Murrygate Village, a working class apartment complex on Rt 1 in Fairfax County, eleven years ago. I grew up in the Boys and Girls Club here and now this summer I will be working at the club helping out with summer camp.

Voice’s youth effort started at Murrygate Village when our teens did a small group discussion about what we wanted to change in our neighborhood. Our school bus stop was out on Rt 1 and some dark mornings our teens would stand there and be harassed by passing people.

 
Our club serves a low-income community so we try not to charge the kids too much. For summer camp we went the pool it added up to a $100 every visit. We kept costs down by limiting the number of times or driving to the free pools in DC.  Finally, we needed more space practice for our dance group.

 

We worked with Bethlehem Baptist Church and VOICE of Mt Vernon (comprised of indviduals from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and Mt Vernon Unitarian Church)  to change these problems.  We met with our prinicipal and got our bus stop moved.  We met with someone from the Park Authority and won free access to the pool for the summers. We had a meeting with the director of the Teen Center at South County where he agreed to give us free space to dance every Friday.
But we are not done yet. We need more recreation space for the youth in our area.  When my peers and I need a quiet place to do homework there is no place to go; we only have a small playground so they overflow into the parking lot which is not safe; We don’t have a gym or a field; and each summer we turn away kids from summer camp because we can only take up to 25 youth.  Many families in the area, including mine, don’t have cars so we can’t always get to other centers. We need better recreation facilities close to home.

When the children from Murrygate go to other boys and girls clubs in the area I can tell they feel more open and active because of the more space and programming.

I’m committed to working to get the youth in our neighborhood access to a full-service recreation or community center.


On November 13th 2014 VOICE Arlington hosted an action at Mt Olive Baptist Church asking County Board Chair Jay Fisette to renew his commitment to Public Land for Public Good as a key tool for affordable housing. Four speakers shared their stories of why affordable housing in Arlington is so important.

Eugene and Vanessa Denney share their story.

 


On November 13th 2014 VOICE Arlington hosted an action at Mt Olive Baptist Church asking County Board Chair Jay Fisette to renew his commitment to Public Land for Public Good as a key tool for affordable housing. Four speakers shared their stories of why affordable housing in Arlington is so important.

Maria Jimenez shares her story.


On November 13th 2014 VOICE Arlington hosted an action at Mt Olive Baptist Church asking County Board Chair Jay Fisette to renew his commitment to Public Land for Public Good as a key tool for affordable housing. Four speakers shared their stories of why affordable housing in Arlington is so important.

Pat Findikoglu shares her story here.


On November 13th 2014 VOICE Arlington hosted an action at Mt Olive Baptist Church asking County Board Chair Jay Fisette to renew his commitment to Public Land for Public Good as a key tool for affordable housing. Four speakers shared their stories of why affordable housing in Arlington is so important.

Tia Alfred shares her story here.


I’ve lived in the James Bland Public Housing in Alexandria for seven years with my 19-year-old daughter and 9-month-old granddaughter. I came to a V.O.I.C.E. meeting last year because of my electric bill. When I first moved to James Bland, I didn’t pay electric. All of a sudden, the Public Housing Authority said they were going to begin charging residents for electric. I had to pay a $120 security deposit. My first bill was for $390, and the next bill was $306. I was unemployed after a back injury and taking care of my daughter and granddaughter. I had no $300 to give Dominion Power. It turned out other people at the V.O.I.C.E. meeting had the same issue, plus other concerns -- severe sewage back-ups, mold, rats, roaches,bedbugs, broken heaters.

Two hundred Bland residents and V.O.I.C.E. leaders held an Action with the Housing Authority director to demand changes. After 14 days, 21 units were inspected and brought up to code. I now pay $0 electric. But our work is not done.


My name is Bonnie Johnson. I can’t afford housing in Prince William County – my home – so I live in the woods. I have had trouble keeping a job because my dental problems and severe pain have caused frequent absences. I needed dental help immediately but couldn’t afford it, and I didn’t have any insurance.

I told my story at a V.O.I.C.E. Action in July, and I was filled with hope when I heard Gov. Kaine promise to do his best to look for money to help poor people like me get dental care.
About a week later, I was told that someone had arranged through V.O.I.C.E. to pay for treatment for me. I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am. I’ve had six teeth pulled already and face more treatment ahead, but my pain has been greatly reduced. We can’t forget the many others who live in the woods in Woodbridge or the 177,000 other people in Northern Virginia who aren’t
receiving the dental care they need. Besides V.O.I.C.E.’s work on the state level, V.O.I.C.E. leaders in Prince William are organizing to ensure that  our supervisors join other counties and include money for adult dental care  in the budget.


Text from Carla's June 10 2013 speech at West Potomac High School. Photo by Louise Krafft, Mount Vernon Gazette.

 

Hello, my name is Carla Castro-Claure. I am 17 years old and I’ve spent most of my childhood in Audubon Moblie Home Park. 

I played in these streets and lived around the corner form these vacant buildings and parking lots.  It was a hard time for me.  My grades suffered.  But now I am a leader in my school.  I am the chorographer of our Latin dance team, Vice president of DECA and a Nationals finalist for business law and ethics.

Audubon Mobile Home Park, which is now predominantly Latino, has over 711 mobile homes and next door Murraygate Village, predominant African American, West African and Latino, has over 200 public housing units.  But there is not an easily walkable public park near our neighborhood. Youth either have to cross the highway or walk over 1.3 miles.

The issues of safety and positive youth activities in Audubon are personal to me because I lived it and my family is still living it.  My little sisters are age 3 and 7.  They are being raised in Audubon. I want to use the leadership skills I learned to fight for them to have a better experience there than I did. 

First, we want to turn an underutilized parking lot into a soccer field. 

This field will allow us to have a soccer team and other healthy activities in our neighborhood.

To do this, we need Supervisor McKay to help us negotiate a 10-year lease or land use agreement and help us to secure approximately $60,000 to install a sport court surface.  The US Soccer Foundation makes grants to build soccer fields in neighborhoods like ours but we need to have at least a 10-year agreement for the space.

Second, we want to turn one of the vacant commercial spaces into a larger neighborhood center for Audubon & Murraygate.

Here we can have youth programming, adult English classes, school and community events.  In the Sacramento Neighborhood, just 3-miles south of us in Lee District, UCM & Fairfax County fund a neighborhood center.  In Arlington, they built a neighborhood center in a former Safeway Grocery store.  HomeGoods recently closed leaving a huge space right in our backyard.  We need your help Supervisor McKay to help us get a lease for one of these vacant spaces and fund a neighborhood center. 

Bring me with you to the negotiations and I’m sure we will come out with a good deal.

Finally, we know there are many neighborhoods like Audubon & Murraygate that are not near enough to parks, have no community center or a center that is over capacity.  We want both Supervisor Hyland & Supervisor McKay to help us secure planning funding for a large, full-service, low-fee recreation and community center with transportation for Route One youth.  For example, the former Mt Vernon HS and current ISA school has fields, a gymnasium, classrooms, and borders a public pool. This space could be future community center that has the capacity to serve the huge youth population in our area.

I believe this is a positive vision for our community.  VOICE, West Potomac & Mt Vernon High School, will you stand with me to accomplish it?


In 2013 VOICE organized a 250-person “One Reston Walk” raising the importance of preserving affordable housing and specifically raising concerns about the redevelopment of Crescent Apartments, a market-rate affordable building.  In the end, šVOICE leaders and Crescent Apartments tenants got Board of Supervisors Chairperson Bulova and Supervisor Hudgins to support tenants with their goal of returning to the redeveloped complex.

Read about Nosa Zeinalabdin & Atif Kambal (pictured) and other families that will stay in affordable housing in Fairfax County due to our organizing in our booklet Blessings for So Many - Crescent Apartments Stories.


I’m Gladys Suarez.  I live in Reston, VA, attend St John Nuemann Catholic Church and I need access to dental care.  Virginia is one of 7 states that does not offer dental care for low-income adults..  People like me with diabetes are two times more likely to develop gum disease, but my income does not allow me or my daughter to have dental insurance to regularly visit the dentist. In order to get care I went to see an unlicensed dentist.  But after the visit, I ended up in the hospital emergency room because I got an infection.  Unfortunately, stories like mine are all too common because there are thousands of low income adults living in Northern Virginia with inadequate access to dental care.

After my dental scare I got involved with VOICE as a leader from my parish.  I worked on VOICE’s Dental Campaign to win $200,000 to hire a dentist serving low income adults in Western Fairfax County.  Through the campaign I’ve run meetings, helped turnout people from my church living without dental care, and told my story at a 350 person action.  This campaign was so important to me that I took time off from work, without pay, to give witness to the need for dental care.  I have met with elected officials and hospital CEO’s to tell my story about the need for dental care.  After six-months of diligent work, I am so proud to say our work paid off.  Starting July 1, 2012 we will have a full-time dentists at the Northern Virginia Dental Clinic in Sterling, VA. The dentists projected to help the clinic complete an additional 1,500 appointments a year, increasing their annual appointments to 5,000.


My name is Kona Sam. I am a single mother with three children and I’m originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa.

Like many families in Prince William County, I have been fighting to save my home for years.  I have sent so much paperwork than I can’t even remember it all.  Finally, I am excited to tell you a happy story because I got my last foreclosure notice from Bank of America.

This spring, I received a notice saying Bank of America was going to sell my house.  I sprang to me feet, got in my car and I drove to Legal Services of Northern Virginia.  There I met Meghan Schneider, a lawyer.

Meghan and I applied for a temporary loan modification together and the foreclosure was cancelled as long as I kept up the payments.

But three months later, after paying on time, I got news I never expected. 

I got a permanent modification AND I got principal reduction.  Under the National Mortgage Settlement, Bank of America forgave $260,000 of my principal and late fees.  My interest rate went from 8.9% to 2.4%.  My monthly payments went from $2,900 to $1,223 per month.

I could not believe my eyes.  I jumped up.  I screamed.  And then I called Meghan immediately.  And one day later I drove to her office!

Until I worked with Meghan, I was like many families.  I felt hopeless.  I did not know where to turn.  But she – and housing counselors like her – help families keep fighting.  They help families find hope and faith to keep working.

To VOICE – I thank all of you.  Thank you for fighting for housing counselors.  Thank you for fighting for more principal reduction.   And we need to keep fighting.  There are more families who are struggling like me.  So we all need courage and faith to keep working.

To Bank of America, I thank you!  I am so happy for the actions you have taken to help me and others after all these years.

And to Meghan, I cannot find the words to thank you.  You saved my home.  You saved my family.    Thank you!


Georgetown South is a Prince William neighborhood devastated by the housing crisis, with a foreclosure rate of more than 30 percent. That’s nearly 300 homes—300 families—in one neighborhood. 

Leslie Jones has seen the crisis up close. On Beech Place, the street where she lives, there have been 18 foreclosures. One street over on Aspen, 24 homes saw foreclosures. On Taney Road, where the community center sits, there were at least 77 foreclosures. The home ownership rate fell from 60 percent to less than 40 percent.

Home values have fallen drastically— sometimes from $250,000 to $60,000.  With a crisis like this, whole neighborhoods are damaged. Leslie has seen that, too. “The numbers don’t tell the whole story. Our neighborhood went through a depression. Friends disappeared. Homes stood vacant inviting drug dealers and other crime. Investors scooped up properties cheaply and became slum landlords barely maintaining the properties and threatening tenants.”

Leslie too has joined the VOICE campaign.  “We don’t have to stand for this. I will not stand for it.”


My name is Roland Finken.  My wife and I are members of Temple Rodef Shalom and have lived in McLean for 40 years.  Since moving here I've been aleader in civic and social affairs. I was on the board of the Friends of the McLean Community Center and was chair of the Dranesville Council. I ran for the school board and I served as the president of the McLean Hamlet.

Two years ago I stopped driving.  When the keys are taken away, the wife and the kids are there to help, but everyone else peters out.  It has been difficult for me to get around my neighborhood now that I am not driving.  My wife helps out as much as she can, but she has her own life and can't take me everywhere I need to go.  She is traveling right now so she can't drive me around. I don't want to hold her back from her life. I can't use public transportation because the buses stop too far away from our house.

Neighbors have offered to help, but they have their own lives and are busy. While they say they can take me to the Giant, or other places I need to go, they cannot take me on a regular basis. I don't want to be always calling on them. I feel bad putting them in on the spot.

As I said, my wife is out of town, so I called the Shepard Center to see if they could help me get to necessary appointments. However, the founder and main volunteer, Ed Schrock, is on vacation as well, so they aren't offering rides right now. While the Shepard Center does amazing work, they are limited in what they can do. All volunteer programs are limited. They only have enough volunteers to take people to necessary appointments and can't always meet all the needs in the community.

I sometimes use SHARE to get around. Once, I had a ride to the dentist with them. On the way there, the volunteer told me that he wouldn't be able to drive me back to my house after the appointment. I was stranded. The only option I had was to take a cab back to my house. It cost me $30 to get from Seven Corners to my house in McLean. I can't afford to take a taxi everywhere I go, even with the vouchers that are offered through taxi access.

Lack of affordable, accessible transportation is making it hard for me to get to appointments and social events in our neighborhood and at the temple. As a community we have been researching the problem and possible solutions and engaging our elected officials on the topic. Together I think we can make life better for all of us.  I look forward to a day when I can easily get around the community where I have lived for more than 40 years.


My name is Wasiu Adedeji and I am a member of Holy Family Catholic Church.  General Electric – and their subprime lender, WMC Mortgage – is the reason I became a real estate agent.  I had to learn how to short sell my own house to avoid foreclosure.

My story begins in September 2006.  I just started a new job six months prior.  Even though I never bought a house, I had heard from friends how easy their experiences had been.

Making $35,000 per year, I was told I qualified for a $425,000 loan. 

I told my real estate agent that seemed strange.  How could I afford the loan?

He said, “Don’t worry!”  I could rent out the basement.  I could live with other family members.  I could take on a second job. This would be a great investment!  And I trusted him.

A stated income comprising of the potential rental income and those of family members was used to qualify me for the loan.  But the loans my broker put together – a broker I never saw or met before I signed the paperwork – were crazy.

On a $425,000 loan, my interest rate started at 8.07% and could go as high as 14.57%.  Payments started at more than $3000 per month and could have been as high as $5000 if I had stayed in the loan.  To top it all off, even if I had kept the house for 30 years, I would have had a balloon payment of almost $200,000 to keep the house!

Looking back, I should have known better.  I should never have signed those papers.

But – as a real estate agent now – I also know that I was taken advantage of.  My trust was violated.  My ego and self-esteem were severely battered. My life was almost ruined.  But I fought back.  Unfortunately, more than 600 families cannot say the same.

I accept responsibility for what happened to me.  I accept responsibility for what I could and should have done.  And now I challenge General Electric & Mr. Immelt to accept their responsibility as well.