Living In The Motel: One Carson City Family's Struggle To Find Affordable Housing

May 10, 2018

As a part of our "Priced Out" series focusing on affordable housing, we wanted to find the human beings of this issue. The real people who represent the statistics and percentages.

And we found three of them—a family—at a Days Inn Motel in Carson City. Reno Public Radio's Bree Zender followed their story for about a month, starting at the motel. 

"What's your favorite thing about this place?" I ask.

"I love the waffles. And the cereal," said Mollie. She's 9 years old.

"When you say waffles, do you mean the free breakfast that you get?"

"Yeah. It's delicious!" Mollie said.

Mollie, her mom, Jocelyn, and her big sister, Sophie, aren't staying at the motel on a vacation. They're here because they were displaced from their rental home in January. Since then, the family has been living temporarily between the motel and a friend's house.

Sophie, 13, Jocelyn and Mollie, 9, pose in front of their motel room in Carson City, Nevada. Jocelyn says finding stable housing has been difficult since she left her abusive ex-husband four years ago.
Credit Krysta Scripter

Mollie's mom, Jocelyn, has lived in the Northern Nevada for most of her life. They had to leave their previous residence because the landlord had raised the price of rent.

"We lived in a trailer on a 20-acre ranch in Fish Springs," Jocelyn said. "We really loved it out there."

Four years ago, Jocelyn and her daughters were living in a home her ex-husband owned. Jocelyn says he was violent and abusive toward her, but it was a struggle for her to leave.

"I was with him since I was... I had just turned 21," she said. "And he's just kind of been in control ever since. I wasn't really allowed to know anything about the bills, or anything like that."

Jocelyn is a substitute teacher, which landlords often consider an unreliable income when reviewing tenant applications. She said child support payments often don't count as steady income, either. She and her girls have been denied several times, and the average price of rent keeps going up as time goes by.

"It's also been very hard getting into housing being a single mom," she said. "Single moms are discriminated against all the time. Yeah, it's like we are nothing without our husbands. I mean, that's a liability if we don't have a man."

Jocelyn is hoping the family can move into a rented home. But in the meantime, they've tried to make their motel room feel more like home. They've got a wall tapestry laid on a nearby table, serving as a table cloth. There are stuffed animals and extra fuzzy blankets on the bed.

Jocelyn placed a wall tapestry atop the motel room's table, to make the place feel more like home for her two daughters.
Credit Krysta Scripter

"I can't actually call a place my own, because I don't have a home. I don't own this place," Mollie said. "And whenever I'm scared, I think in my head, 'Why don't you just pretend you're at home?' But I didn't know what to dream of because I didn't have a home. And this place doesn't exactly feel like home."

Mollie's sister, Sophie, is 13. Both said whenever they get stressed out about their living situation, they put their noses into books—mostly in the fantasy genre. And when the pages run out, Sophie said she turns to schoolwork, and her friends.

"Reading's kind of my way of getting away from stuff. At least it's good for my English grade," she said. 

The family is cramped for space in the motel room, and keep most of their belongings in suitcases. Jocelyn cooks food for her daughters in a microwave.
Credit Krysta Scripter

Mollie says her big sister tries to be strong for her.

"Sometimes, when I'm upset, Sophie's actually very grown up. She's still a kid, so she wants the life of a kid, but sometimes she has to act like an adult," Mollie said.

"All I really want to do is... I want my kids to have a childhood," Jocelyn said. "You know, Mollie was talking about how grown up Sophie is. She's too grown up. It makes me sad. And it makes me feel like I've failed."

***

Jocelyn and the girls stayed in this motel for another week or so. Then, after about two-and-a-half months of living in suitcases, Jocelyn and her daughters found a more permanent home. The family was able to get approved and move into an apartment that's within their price range.

It's a two-bedroom apartment in Carson City, with room for their dog, Mac, and all of their books.

"We like to read in here, because there's a little light. And there's a little bench right here. Here's our library. This is just part of our library," Mollie said.

Jocelyn and the girls are happy here. But she still fears she and the girls will be forced out again if the rent prices go up, or if loses her sources of income.

I asked Jocelyn if she's proud that she found a more stable place for herself and the girls. Jocelyn sighed.

"No. Not yet," she said. "I'll be proud of myself when I have a degree that will take me to the workplace anywhere in this country. Then I'll be proud of myself. I'll be proud of myself when I can get my finances together and build my credit up and I can buy a home without help from anybody else."

For now, Jocelyn is looking to finish her bachelor's degree to become a teacher or a social worker, so she can get a more stable income later on.

The family's dog, Mac, smiles at the camera at the Days Inn. Jocelyn wanted to find a place that had room for the dog as well as her daughters.
Credit Krysta Scripter

Jocelyn shows KUNR her one-bedroom motel room that she shares with her two daughters. Video by Krysta Scripter