Texana Hollis, 101, who has been evicted from her Detroit home since September, talks with Jahzara Cheeks, 5, the granddaughter of Hollis' longtime friend who offered her a room in her home. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Detroit — Texana Hollis still can't go home.
Four months after the federal housing department said the 101-year-old could return to her foreclosed west-side home of nearly 60 years following public outcry over her eviction, the front door of the house remains padlocked.
And it remains unclear when, or if, she will ever return to the home on the 8300 block of Carbondale Street. She was forced to leave in September after her son, Warren Hollis, 65, failed to pay $7,000 in property taxes to keep a reverse mortgage taken out in 2002, despite months of warnings.
"Here I am, 100 years old, and don't have a home," Hollis said, rounding off her age. "Oh Lord, help me."
Two days after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development foreclosed on the home, spokesman Brian Sullivan told The Detroit News that Hollis could live in her house "for as long as she wants."
But that was before HUD had the house evaluated, Sullivan said.
"We saw a house that was completely unsuitable for a person to live in," Sullivan said. "We can't allow someone to live in that (atmosphere) now that we are essentially the owners of the property.
"The home isn't safe; it's not sanitary. It's certainly not suitable for anyone to live in, especially not a 101-year-old mother."
HUD doesn't want to pay to rehabilitate the house. Local agencies are trying to find a solution, he said. The federal agency has considered selling it to a third party that might want to help Hollis, but it hasn't found a buyer.
"We're not giving up," Sullivan said. "We're talking with anybody and everybody about solutions to this situation, but the condition of the property is a challenge."
When HUD foreclosed in September, workers put many of her possessions in trash bins, which were later retrieved. But the damage already done in the house "far exceeded what could've occurred that day," Sullivan said.
HUD had warned of foreclosure in June 2010.
Warren Hollis had taken out a reverse mortgage for the assessed property value of $32,000, an option HUD offers senior citizens. By 2006, the amount paid to the family exceeded the value of the house, and HUD took control of the mortgage.
'It's not my home'
Hollis said the stress of the eviction made her disoriented, and she spent several days at Henry Ford Hospital recovering.
After hearing of Hollis' eviction, Pollian Cheeks, 68, a longtime friend, offered her a room with an adjustable bed at her house on the 8100 block of American Street, less than a mile away from Hollis' shuttered home. Hollis, who once taught Cheeks in Sunday school at St. Philip's Lutheran Church on East Grand Boulevard, has been living there since.
"Polly's just as nice to me as anybody could be. She goes out of her way to help me," Hollis said, holding back tears. "It's just like living at home, but it's not my home."
Cheeks, a retired General Motors employee of more than 28 years, said it's her nature to help. She lives with two foster daughters, ages 16 and 13, and one of her granddaughters, 5-year-old Jahzara.
Hollis has taught Jahzara four of the Ten Commandments so far, and Hollis gets a twinkle in her eye when the girl braids her hair.
"I love children," Hollis said.
Son wants mom back home
The Detroit Area Agency on Aging also has been assisting Hollis since the eviction. She was on the agency's radar because she has used a mobile meals program since the 1990s. After hearing of the eviction, the agency looked for more ways to help.
Through the state-funded MI Choice Waiver Program, the agency pays Cheeks $8 an hour, 30 hours per week, to be her caregiver, agency officials said. Cheeks said the money helps cover the extra costs. The agency also pays one of Cheeks' church friends to help twice a week.
"She treats me just like I was her own mother," Hollis said. "She cares for me just like I was a little baby, does things I can't do for myself, and she never complains."
A nursing home was out of the question for someone with a mind as sharp as hers, Cheeks said. Hollis has diabetes and is in a wheelchair, but is otherwise in good health for her age.
Cheeks helps Hollis walk around the house most days and tries to take her to church every Sunday.
"If I had my choice, she'd (stay) right here because she needs 24-hour care," Cheeks said.
Warren Hollis and another one of Hollis' sons, 69-year-old Ira Jr., both lived with her at the home on Carbondale. The two brothers are staying with a neighbor near the house.
Hollis and her late husband grew up in Alabama before moving to Detroit in the 1950s for "a better way of living," Warren Hollis said. Another son, John, 67, lives in Alabama.
Warren Hollis said his mother might be better off living with Cheeks and her family.
But he wants her back in her home.
"She's satisfied here, but I'm not satisfied with her being here," he said.