In late April, 56-year-old Matt Yablon told me he was afraid — terrified, really — that he would die in his car.
For seven years, Yablon — who lives on a fixed income, and suffers from congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — had rented a unit at the Tiki Apartments in Tacoma. Now, standing in the doorway to his apartment, he had the bewildered look of a man who didn’t know what had hit him.
Like residents in the other 57 apartments, Yablon was left reeling after a notice suddenly appeared on his door informing him that he’d soon have to pack up and leave. The property’s new owner, as we reported at the time, was preparing for a major renovation.
Where would he go? Yablon had no idea, but given his income and health problems, he feared the worst.
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Since that day in April, widespread community concern over the situation at the Tiki Apartments prompted action from the City Council and an extension that gave residents more time to move. That’s the good news.
The bad news?
Despite all of it, on Tuesday, the worst came one step closer for Yablon.
He loaded up his possessions and drove them to storage. His plan, at least for the time being, is to couch surf. Beyond that, he has no idea.
“I’m going to be homeless,” he says. “There’s not a whole lot that scares me, but I don’t think I’ve ever been this scared in my life. … I’m petrified.”
While most of the people who lived at the Tik i Apartments appear to have found a new place to live, Yablon is one of two known former residents still facing uncertainty, according to Greta Brackman, a housing and resource navigator with Comprehensive Life Resources.
As KNKX’s Will James reported recently, caseworkers with the nonprofit mental health agency have worked to find housing for tenants in 36 units at the Tiki Apartments. It helped place some into shared living situations, while others found relatives to help them pay the high cost of moving.
“It’s a bit of a tricky thing,” Brackman says, noting it’s difficult for the agency to say with certainly what became of all of the residents. “We can’t comprehensively say how many are couch surfing or homeless.”
What she knows for certain is that Yablon and another man don’t have a permanent place to go.
Brackman said the other resident was a military vet in his 60s who had been living at the property “for years and years.” She says he’s waiting on a new ID, which will allow him to apply to live at an independent living facility.
Until then, Brackman says, the man is staying with a friend and her agency is helping him with storage.
Sadly, Brackman says he's had to give up his two emotional support cats.
Meanwhile, the difficulties Yablon has faced trying to find a new home are telling, and unfortunately common for those on the wrong side of Tacoma’s housing market — which Zillow recently said has the fastest rising rents in the region.
First, Yablon faced an impossible decision. Living off of just over $1,000 a month in supplemental support income, he stopped paying rent at the Tiki Apartments when he learned he was being ousted. It was the only way, he says, he could afford a move – and the cost of things like screening fees, security deposits and first and last month rent.
Predictably, the landlord formally evicted him, he says.
In his search for a new apartment, Yablon says he’s called more than 140 rental properties over the last two months — from Tacoma to Auburn, and everywhere in between — and visited more than 60 of them.
Still, he says, he can’t find a place to live. Most apartments are too expensive, he says. He paid $570 a month at the Tiki Apartments, and places like that are getting harder and harder to find.
And of the places he thought could afford, almost all required applicants to have income equal to two or three times the monthly rent — which, for Yablon, feels like an impossible hurdle.
“I’m going to have to find a place that will rent to me for $400 a month," he says. "If you don’t make the money you can’t move in. It’s killing me. It’s mind-numbing.”
“As soon as they say you have to make two and a half times the rent, I don’t even try," he adds. "The first few times I tried to negotiate, but they don’t accept it.
“It’s the almighty dollar that rules the world today.”
Even with the long odds, and the fact that Tuesday night marked Yablon’s first without a place of his own to call home, he remains hopeful for “a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.”
But, he admits, it’s getting harder and harder to stay positive.
“I’m just hoping it comes sooner rather than later,” Yablon says.
“It’s been hell. I’m really scared that this move just might kill me.”