published Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

'I WILL, DADDY': Daughter struggles to keep promise and the only home she's ever known

Monyette Ervin, who had to quit work after back surgery earlier this year, struggles to make mortgage payments but wants to stay in the house she inherited from her father, James F, Ervin.
Monyette Ervin, who had to quit work after back surgery earlier this year, struggles to make mortgage payments but wants to stay in the house she inherited from her father, James F, Ervin.
Photo by John Rawlston.

ABOUT THE FUND

Every year during the holiday season, the Chattanooga Times Free Press asks its readers to donate to the Neediest Cases Fund, administered by the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults year round to help local residents whose needs cannot be met through traditional sources. All contributions are acknowledged in the newspaper. This year's fundraising effort will continue through Dec. 31.

Monyette Ervin wants Santa to keep her in her home this Christmas.

Ervin's family has lived on Talladega Road since her father, James, built the first house on the property in 1954, before the neighborhood was anything but woods, she said.

More than 20 years later, the house began to show its age, with a leaky roof and other problems. Ervin and her father looked for new options for their home, eventually purchasing a "shell" home that was built over the foundation of the original house.

"Will you stay here after I'm gone?" James asked her.

"I will, Daddy," Ervin promised.

But this year was the first year Ervin was afraid she might not be able to keep her promise.

In April, she had surgery on her back to relieve the pain from a variety of ailments, including a bulging disc and lumbar strain. The surgery left her disabled and unable to return to work for her employer of 34 years, the Hamilton County Nursing Home, now the Health Center at Standifer Place.

The original mortgage on the structure she inherited after her father's death in 1987 was paid off in the early 2000s. But in 2005, Ervin took out a $26,000 loan to pay for improvements.

When her temporary disability benefits and insurance ran out in July, Ervin found herself with a mortgage payment much larger than the pension she receives.

She has applied for disability and been denied. She does not qualify for state or federal housing assistance programs because of her lack of steady income.

Ervin found herself creeping closer to foreclosure of the only home she's ever known.

That's when she started asking for assistance. She went to churches, government agencies, anyone she could think of to find help.

"You don't know how to feel when you don't have your own, and you have to rely on someone else," she said.

She received some funding from area churches, the Chattanooga Human Services Department and the Samaritan Center, which paid her mortgage one month and later referred her to the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults and its credit counseling program.

Tina Williams, a housing counselor at Partnership's Consumer Credit Counseling Services, has been working with Ervin since September. She has helped Ervin get resources to help her with food, utilities and other things, so most of her money can go toward the mortgage payments.

"She's on the precipice -- until you do this or until you have this, you can't get this help," Williams said. "It's frustrating for me as a housing counselor to see someone in need that can't get help."

The Times Free Press Neediest Cases fund paid for her mortgage in its entirety -- $342 -- for December, which should keep her out of foreclosure proceedings until February. By that time, Williams hopes that the disability benefits or at least a promise of disability benefits will be approved.

When she let Ervin know that Neediest Cases would pay her mortgage for one month, Williams said she wasn't sure whether Ervin was crying or shouting -- she just knew Ervin was ecstatic to get more time in her home.

Ervin, 57, plans to stay in her little yellow house for the rest of her life, and has hope that something will be done to help keep her there.

More than anything, she just wants to keep the promise she made to her father.

"I look at his little face up there in those pictures, and I say, 'Daddy, I'm doing my best," Ervin said.

about Rachel Bunn...

Rachel Bunn is originally from Ellijay, Ga., and graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in magazines and history. While at UGA, she wrote for the student magazine UGAzine, served as news editor for the student newspaper, The Red & Black, and spent a semester studying British history at Oxford University in Oxford, England. She has previously worked at The Rockdale Citizen in Conyers, Ga., and The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the ...

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