From Here to There and Back Again: The Story of Charmaine J.
After graduating from high school in a small Ohio town of less than 25,000 people, Charmaine moved to Arlington for her new job at the FBI as a secretary for special agents. Excited by the new opportunity, she established home in Arlington and a work life in DC. She immediately loved the community, a safe, diverse hub of people and cultures.
Following her job at the FBI, Charmaine is proud of the work she did supporting the Arlington School Board members, “they created new spaces for students with special needs and worked on giving them their own classrooms to learn.” She also worked as a legal secretary for a local practicing attorney and at the World Bank. Eventually, she moved in with her brother, who owned a townhome in Arlington. For years, she enjoyed the safety and comfort of Arlington and frequently walked to her favorite places and restaurants, until her life was upended with unsettling news.
Her father had cancer. As his treatment progressed, Charmaine found herself dividing her life between her parents in Ohio and her home in Arlington, traveling back and forth for over 10 arduous years. And then her mother received a cancer diagnosis. With both of her parents ill, she moved to Ohio fill-time. She worked and took care of both of her ailing parents. But there was a silver lining. She met her current husband Wallace in Ohio and is grateful for their strong relationship. “You really need support during the hard times,” she said of Wallace.
After her father died, Charmaine and Wallace remained in Ohio to take care of her mother. At the end of her life, her mother said, “you have done enough. You can go home now.” It had been 5 years since she had moved to Ohio, but even her mother recognized that to Charmaine, Arlington never stopped feeling like home.
With a heavy heart, Charmaine and Wallace sold their belongings in Ohio and moved back to Arlington. They lived temporarily with a friend in a one-bedroom on Lee Highway as they regained their footing. Still reeling from the grief and trauma – her brother had also passed away during this time – Charmaine endured an emotional housing search. They were dependent on savings and Social Security income while Wallace looked for work. Apartment rents had skyrocketed far beyond their means during her years away.
A friend eventually told her about APAH. On a weekday morning, Charmaine knocked on a locked office door outside of their normal hours. Kevin, the assistant property manager, helped her complete the paperwork for a single remaining vacancy in Queens Court. “I didn’t believe him that the prices were real,” she recalled with a faint smile.
Charmaine and Wallace lived in Queens Court for 6 months and moved to Columbia Hills in the fall of 2018, one of the first families to move in. They are very excited that Wallace recently started a new job with the federal government to provide IT support.
She is close with the Hills community and on a first-name basis with leasing staff, including Juan, the assistant property manager for Columbia Hills. She is ever-grateful to the patience and comfort exhibited by Kevin and Juan for helping her establish her roots in Arlington.
After experiencing the shocking rent increases, Charmaine is an ardent advocate for affordable housing. Just last month, she testified in front of the Arlington County Board in support of building more affordable housing by telling her personal story.
“I know we still need more affordable housing,” she said, recently. “I wish everyone who needs it would have the chance to live here at APAH.”