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Living On The Edge Of Homelessness: Xelimar Mendez’ Story

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Xelimar Mendez

Xelimar Menxdez at the door of her apartment. Photo by Ernest Duffoo, WMFE

For many Central Floridians, the lack of affordable and available housing leaves them on the edge of homelessness. One resident of an Orlando condo complex has been living under this shadow for a year.

Xelimar Mendez packs boxes in her kitchen. The 29-year-old is prepping for a move that’s been on her mind for a year. Mendez, her husband and two children are finally moving out of Tymber Skan on the Lakes Condominium Complex. The troubled complex has been beleaguered by crime and maintenance woes.

Two months ago, an overdue water bill of tens of thousands of dollars for the complex almost prompted Orlando Utilities Commission to shut off the water. So, Mendez started looking for somewhere else to live.

“I remember, there were nights I couldn’t sleep, just thinking and looking and searching online,” says Mendez. “Just trying to find a place to go, find an affordable house.”

Mendez says her options were limited by her and her husband’s lack of savings and credit history. Meanwhile, time was ticking until OUC and Orange County reached an agreement about the water.

“If they would have shut off the water at the moment, I would have probably just been homeless. I don’t know, I don’t have any family, nowhere to go,” she says.

As Mendez wondered where her family would sleep at night, even her 11-year-old daughter wished she could work to help out the family.

The lack of affordable housing is a common problem in Orange County. According to The Urban Institute’s Metro Trends Blog, Orange County has about 37,000 extremely low income households and roughly 4,800 affordable and available housing units. That means for every 100 families looking for an affordable place to live, there are only 13 units available.

So, seeking help, many people turn to 2-1-1, Heart of Florida United Way’s crisis hotline.

Director Caree Jewell says anyone can be on the verge of losing their home- not just people living in poverty.

“Just one small incident, like your car breaking down, and that costing $200 to $300 to fix, just a normal occurrence that could happen to anyone,” says Jewell.  For those in the middle class living paycheck to paycheck, that can mean rent money, or it could mean your mortgage.”

According to real estate research group Zillow, on average, 32 percent of a person’s income goes to rent in Orlando. That’s a 10 point jump from just over a decade ago—and it’s leaving people with little choice but to pay more for housing than they can generally afford.

Julian Chambliss, a history professor at Rollins College who specializes in urban spaces, says it’s a growing problem in the rental housing market.

“There’s not enough rental properties for people, so you have this tremendous gap for affordable housing and housing deman,” says Chambliss. “People recognize that you don’t have to have that same kind of personal failure, you in fact could do everything right and still end up on the edge of homelessness.”

For Xelimar Mendez, her situation meant compromising and living in an unsafe area.

But her story has a happy ending. Mendez was able to move thanks to Orange County Crisis assistance for a deposit on a new rental home.

“There was a point that I felt like I was going crazy,” says Mendez. “I was like, you know what, I’m just going to trust and I know something good will happen, and it did.”

Though many in Central Florida are on wait lists for housing help, Mendez can sleep easy knowing she and her family are no longer on the edge of homelessness, and they’ll have a roof over their heads and a safer place to call home.

“Now that this opportunity came along, and we have the chance to move out, I’m excited,” she says. “It’s a new beginning for us.

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