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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 28, 2011

Four months after eviction, Michael given a home

By Zach Simeone

KNOX — Rebecca Michael thought she would be spending Christmas on the streets after being evicted from her trailer in Knox. Four months later, Easter decorations cover her new home on Bozenkill Road, which she got with a little help from a Hilltown neighbor.

The new home — a modest, narrow, three-story frame house — may one day belong to her if all goes according to plan. For now, she’ll be paying rent with federal funding while she builds her credit rating.

“I like decorating for every holiday,” Michael said, seated on the stairs leading down to her new living room, which is covered with Easter ornaments, and two pastel colored candy dispensers sit below the nearly wall-sized window. Her 11-year-old daughter, Christina, shares her fervor.

“Christina is already planning on making this a haunted house for Halloween,” said Michael. “I have witches, I have goblins. She can’t wait for garage sales to find more holiday stuff.”

Michael could have her Section 8 funding — from a federal program for the poor and disabled — approved as early as next week. She has an IQ of 69, and is raising two children with disabilities. She is grateful, she said, that a fellow Hilltowner, Vasilios Lefkaditis, learned of Michael’s eviction in December, and was driven to help.

“Truthfully, I did it because we’re either a community or we’re not,” Lefkaditis said, seated in the living room across from Michael. “When it comes to expertise, I’m steep in real estate, lawyers, and courtrooms. This fell right into my wheelhouse.”

In addition to buying the property for Michael through Shaw Funding, the company that he manages and built with his business partner, Lefkaditis also helped renovate the inside of the house.

Michael’s 9-year-old son, Dartanyen, has a class with Lefkaditis’s daughter, Kiki, and Christina is in 4-H with Kiki. Anna Lefkaditis, Vasilios’s wife, often sees Rebecca at Parent-Teacher Association meetings.

“But, whether we knew them or not,” Lefkaditis said, “something had to be done.”

Michael was evicted from her home in Knox Estates Trailer Park last December, after years of conflict with the tenants’ association that owned and ran the trailer park. Michael’s husband left in 2003, she said, and paying the rent became an even greater challenge than it had previously been. The association had, at one point, told her that they were evicting her due to a failure to pay her rent. But, when she presented a check from the Albany County Department of Social Services in March of 2010, the association denied the payment.

(For the full story, go to www.AltamontEnterprise.com, and look under Hilltown archives for Dec. 23, 2010.)

Challenges overcome,

challenges remaining

“I had to get child protective [services] off my butt,” Michael said this week. “Christina was hospitalized. She lost her home; lost her cat; and she didn’t have the routine she was used to. She had medication that needed to be adjusted. With this disorder, you have to have structure; you have to have a routine. Her security was her home and her pet.”

Rebecca’s daughter, Christina, is bipolar, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is speech impaired, and has oppositional defiant disorder — a condition that causes her to become physically violent towards authority figures.

Adding to her stress was the resignation in December of Meri-Beth Spring, Christina’s special-education teacher at Berne-Knox-Westerlo Middle School.

Said Lefkaditis of Christina, “Now, she’s got a pool and a dollhouse — a real home, a play home, and a pool.”

“Once she got her cat,” Michael added, “she was halfway there. And she knew she had a home coming eventually.”

Michael’s son, Dartanyen, has a bacterial growth in his abdomen caused by an infection, and may have to have parts of his intestine and colon removed. He also has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, severe asthma, ADHD, and is autistic.

Both children have speech problems and learning disabilities.

“He just turned nine a week and a half ago,” Michael said with a proud smile on Monday. “He got a color TV, and his grandma bought him a bed.”

That bed will go in his brand new bedroom.

“He wanted cars,” Michael said of the painted walls, “but he couldn’t decide between red or blue,” so there’s a bit of both. His room at the trailer park had Care Bears on the wall.

“He’s getting older,” said Lefkaditis with a grin. “We started working on the house right after we closed.”

The power was on by Feb. 28.

“The heat transfers amazingly in this house,” Lefkaditis said. “Because of the convection, the way the staircase is designed, the heat transfers right up into the upper rooms. You don’t need much heat; it finds its way.”

Dartanyen has an especially good time climbing the stairs, Michael said. He’s not used to having them.

“My kids think it’s fantastic,” she said. “They can’t get over the space they have. We’re not on top of each other… They think it’s funny that I have my own bedroom now. They’re not used to Mommy being able to go and take a five-minute breather. I am extremely grateful and blessed.”

Now, the remodeling process is essentially done, although Michael may re-paint the living room walls, which are now beige. She will have to wade through the waves of Easter decorations to do so.

“We got held up by the weather,” said Lefkaditis, “but we went through as quickly as we could. We got held up by various inspections; various agencies have to inspect as you go, and you’re at their mercy. The final inspection should be next week.”

Finishing touch

Michael had been getting aid through Section 8, a federal program run by Housing and Urban Development. But only one of the four Hilltowns is eligible for Section 8: Knox.

“But, the rent market is extremely slim in Knox,” said Lefkaditis. “Keeping the kids in the same school was very important, but finding an apartment in Knox was impossible. Plus, the clock was ticking. She had four months to get into a new home.”

Then, they found the house on Bozenkill Road. Now, Section 8 funding may be just around the corner.

“Section 8 inspected it, loved it, and gave me a punch list of a few things,” said Lefkaditis of the house. “Once I call them to come check if the punch list is prepared, we’re done…Apparently, there was a suspension of services because they didn’t have a place to stay, but that’s been stabilized.”

That list, Lefkaditis said, included the following improvements to the building: “Put in a bathroom sink; remove glass from porch roof; install smoke detector on ceiling on third floor; install discharge line on hot-water heater; secure outlet next to furnace; install cover on the outlet; install smoke detector in living room; provide a regular-size propane tank; remove debris from backyard; provide second means of egress from third floor.”

Section 8 inspectors had come to check out the house in the past, but it was in far different condition then, according to Lefkaditis’s interactions with the inspector.

“The house was unfinished to say the least,” Lefkaditis said. “Floors, windows, rooms; structurally, it was unfinished. It was safe, but it needed a great deal of work. They had doors leading to nowhere. Literally, you stepped out and — whoop. Down you go. They had no heating system other than a wood stove. Floors were [oriented strand board] and plywood, wires taped all over the floors.”

He said of the inspector, who had been to the house in November, “When she first got here, she told me she didn’t want to get out of the car. When she left, she was thrilled to death.”

On the horizon is the goal of transferring ownership of the home to Michael.

“The ultimate game plan, through various programs, is to sell it to her on a cost basis,” Lefkaditis said. “Whatever we put into it, sell it to her for that much. We’re not looking to make a profit. Whatever we bought it for, whatever we put into it, we’ll give it to her for that.”

They will be working to build Michael’s credit, which is “only a few points off from where we want it,” he said.

“We haven’t crossed that bridge yet,” said Lefkaditis. “Phase one was to get her in a stable environment with the kids. Phase two is to take ownership.”

Michael hopes to start selling Avon products online again. Eventually, she will put up a swing set and a jungle gym for her kids. The thought of having a home is, in some ways, new to her.

“It’s very strange,” she said. “For 10 years, I lived in a trailer with two kids. I’m just really excited about collecting my personal belongings and getting them to one spot.”

For Lefkaditis, it was just part of being a neighbor.

“If they wanted an interior decorator, I wouldn’t have been able to help,” he quipped. “I had the means to help — this is what I do. Maybe, if I find myself in that position one day, someone will do it for me.”

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