JOLIET – Ashley Tardiff and her three children like their new apartment – no mice, no shootings.
“There was a shooting right in front of the house the week we were moving,” Tardiff said of her old place in Joliet. She looked out the door to see one man chasing another. As bad as that was, Tardiff seemed more relieved to be in a place where she and her three children did not have to worry about mice.
A two-year Army veteran who spent a couple of months in Baghdad, Tardiff is hoping for better times ahead.
Hope Manor Joliet is designed to help her.
Tardiff is one of the first military veterans to move into Hope Manor Joliet. The 67-unit apartment complex is being built by Volunteers of America of Illinois. The nonprofit is devoted to providing affordable housing to veterans who might otherwise face homelessness.
Tardiff had been paying her rent, but it had become increasingly challenging since she suffered a stroke that has kept her away from her job as a massage therapist. The subsidized housing at Hope Manor, she said, “is going to be a big help getting me on my feet.”
“I want to save up and get my credit fixed and be able to provide more for my children,” said Tardiff, who has been divorced twice. “I’ve been the primary parent for my three kids.”
Among her long-term goals is owning a home.
Tardiff left work in warehousing, which was a natural transition from the Army, where she worked in supplies. She went to school to learn massage therapy, which pays much more, Tardiff said. But times have been difficult.
Her predicament is typical of many veterans who face homelessness, said Liliana Scales, director of external relations for Volunteers of America of Illinois.
“That’s the rising population of veteran homelessness – female veterans with children,” Scales said.
The first apartment building, which opened in February, is strictly two- or three-bedroom apartments, meaning veterans with families are moving in. There are 12 apartments in the building.
Volunteers of America plans to open all four buildings by June, including those with one-bedroom apartments. Hope Manor Joliet is located on the old Silver Cross Hospital campus.
Residents get Section 8 vouchers subsidizing rent that ranges from $938 for a one-bedroom to $1,370 for a three-bedroom. The rent is higher than what Tardiff was paying before, but the subsidy makes it affordable.
“People think of affordable housing – we don’t want them to think of affordable housing as having mice or having a shooting in the street,” Scales said.
VOA provides services on site, including job counseling, therapists and tutors for schoolchildren. Financial advice also is available for people like Tardiff, who aspire to fix their credit and eventually own their own homes.
Tardiff said she did not get much advice on what to do next in 2006 when she left the Army.
Once she was on her own, Tardiff did not even realize that she could get tuition assistance until she stopped at the Will County Veterans Assistance Commission because she heard they could help her get a bus pass so she could get around town when she did not have a car. It was the commission that also informed her about Hope Manor Joliet.
She described the help she has received because of her veteran status as being “like a miracle.”
Other veterans moving into the new apartments have had similar reactions to their new homes, said Jamie Jones, property manager for Hope Manor Joliet.
“To say they are happy is not the proper word,” Jones said. “A couple of the families we moved in were sleeping in cars, sleeping in shelters. They’re very grateful. They’re shocked.”