Front and Center: This Mom Is “Saving and Paying My Bills on Time” to Buy a Home—With Help from a Guaranteed Income and the Child Tax Credit

Front and Center is a groundbreaking series of op-eds—published by Ms. and created in partnership with the Magnolia Mother’s Trust—which aims to put front and center the voices of Black women who are affected most by the often-abstract policies currently debated at the national level. The series highlights the success of Springboard to Opportunities’ Magnolia Mother’s Trust, which this year will give $1,000 per month for 12 months to 100 families headed by Black women living in federally subsidized housing.

What possibilities could open up for low-income families if financial survival weren’t always top of mind? What dreams would these mothers and families be able to pursue? What activism and community leadership might arise? The series will answer these and other questions, by placing one mother’s story front and center every other week. The first-person accounts in this series are available for reprint. Find additional guidelines at the end of this story.


I’m originally from Chicago, but I moved to Jackson with my parents when I was 6. My dad is from here so my parents decided to move down for a slower pace of life. I’ve been with my partner for 18 years, and we have five kids together. The oldest is 17 and we also have a 15, 12, 11 and 9-year-old. 

My partner and I have talked about getting married but we just haven’t done it. Someone asked me why recently and I said, “Sometimes I feel like I wanna marry him and sometimes I don’t.” And she said, “Well, that’s marriage.” But we’re both happy with the way it is, it’s not like there’s anything wrong—it’s just not something we think about until someone else brings it up.

front-and-center-11-tamika-guaranteed-income-black-mothers-women-magnolia-mothers-trust-jackson-mississippi-child-tax-credit-covid-schools
(Art by Brandi Phipps)

So like I said, I spent my early years in Chicago. And I haven’t been back there since we left, which is 30 years at this point. I haven’t been able to see my grandma and other family up there. But just this weekend, I have the chance to go up there for my grandma’s birthday to surprise her. I’m really excited about that. I’m taking my kids with me, and it’s going to be the first time they’ve met that side of the family so that’s a big deal. That part of the family has always been very loving and kind and not all our family is like that, so I’m looking forward to being back with them.

I’m a little nervous about traveling with the cases of COVID-19 rising, but we’re going to be really careful and keep distanced with our masks on. I’ll also need to do a negative test before I can come back to my office. My kids are supposed to be back in school soon, but they actually prefer virtual—I don’t think it has much to do with the virus, they just like being home alone when I’m at work. But I’d also prefer them to do virtual with all the case numbers going up.


My kids are supposed to be back in school soon, but they actually prefer virtual. … I’d also prefer them to do virtual with all the case numbers going up.


Like a lot of people I know, I was hesitant to get the vaccine. I just wanted to wait to see more about its effects and if there was anything long-term to be worried about with getting it. But then my oldest daughter came to me and said, “I want to go to school, I want to work, and I want to be safe. So I want to get the vaccine.” And I said okay, “I’ll go with you.”

Then around the same time, my partner came to me and said he was worried about bringing the virus home since he works with a lot of people and that he wanted to get the vaccine, too. So we decided all three of us would go get it, and we went to Walmart together and we did. And I was really proud of my daughter for making that choice on her own. To know she’s so responsible makes me feel a lot better about the upcoming transition of her going off to college and knowing that she’s already making smart decisions. 


She wants to go to school in California, which is just too far for me! I told her, “I don’t think I want to move to California,” and she said, “Mom, I wasn’t talking about you.”


Except she wants to go to school in California, which is just too far for me! I told her, “I don’t think I want to move to California,” and she said, “Mom, I wasn’t talking about you.”

So she’s been looking into schools out there, and Ebony from the last cohort has been helping her too—she knows about California so she’s been telling her about the different schools and the areas around them. It’s great to have that feeling of community—being part of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust program, we are all in touch and support each other, even if we live in different areas or weren’t in the same year.


Being part of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust program, we are all in touch and support each other, even if we live in different areas or weren’t in the same year.


I currently work at the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. It’s a nonprofit that has a focus on economic justice through homeownership, and I am a housing counselor.

Basically my job is to meet people where they are in the homeownership process and then get them where they want to be. When I heard what kind of work they did, I knew I wanted to work for them. I interviewed a couple years ago, but I didn’t hear back. So I just kept reaching out—I figured, they didn’t tell me no, so until they do I’m just going to keep reaching out until I get a yes. And finally, I did.


My job is to meet people where they are in the homeownership process and then get them where they want to be. … I also want to buy a house myself.


I also want to buy a house myself. I was in the process of trying to in 2018, but then my wages were garnished from some furniture I had purchased back in 2015 that I wasn’t able to keep up the payments on once I lost my job back then. I tried to reach out to the company and say, “Can I just make the payment now that I am working instead of you garnishing my wages?” And they said it didn’t work like that. So now this bill that was no more than $2,000 is now $6,000.

I reached out to a lawyer, and she also couldn’t get them to settle. She advised me to file bankruptcy, so I did. And now that’s going to complicate getting a home, which is really frustrating because I had gotten everything else in order—getting my credit score up (the wage garnishments don’t show up on a credit report), I had been paying everything on time, and it just felt like such a big setback to have to file for bankruptcy. And now it just feels like I’m at a standstill.

So now that furniture will be mine forever for what it cost me. It fell apart and I glued it back together; I’m not getting rid of it.


A lawyer advised me to file bankruptcy, so I did. And now that’s going to complicate getting a home, which is really frustrating because I had gotten everything else in order. … Now it just feels like I’m at a standstill.


So now that I’m in this waiting time of figuring out getting my own house, I’m just saving and paying my bills on time and also teaching my kids about the importance of financial responsibility. Every once in a while, I give them a lump sum and say, “Okay, this is your money for when you want to go do things, so you should save some of it.” And it’s been interesting because when it’s “my” money they are happy to spend it freely, but when they understand it as their money, they think more about how they’re going to spend it. So I think that’s a good lesson for them to learn early.

The child tax credit payments that started in July have been a huge help in planning for buying the house. I had been working off my budget that includes our paychecks and the Magnolia Mother’s Trust money, so getting these additional payments I am just putting those away toward our house. 


The child tax credit payments that started in July have been a huge help in planning for buying the house.


I have a floor plan of my dream home on my vision board. I know it may not be possible for each kid to have their own room, but if we’re dreaming, I’m just gonna say that’s what I’d want—a room for each kid, and my girls’ rooms upstairs with Jack and Jill bathrooms connecting their rooms. Then my son would have a room on one side downstairs, and my partner and I would have a room on the other.


I know it may not be possible for each kid to have their own room, but if we’re dreaming, I’m just gonna say that’s what I’d want—a room for each kid.


And we’d have a nice foyer. I want a big living room and big kitchen, and a dining room. And mainly, I want a big backyard so that I can finally get my kids the swing set I’ve been promising them forever. I know that’s kind of silly since they’re older now, but it’s important to me. Having a trampoline and a pool would be amazing, so that we don’t have to go anywhere—we can just vacation in our own backyard. So that’s my dream.


Front and Center pieces are free to republish, under the following guidelines:

  • To ensure context isn’t lost, at the top of your reprint, include a line that reads: “Front and Center is a series of op-eds—published by Ms. magazine and created in partnership with the Magnolia Mother’s Trust—highlighting the success of Springboard to Opportunities’ Magnolia Mother’s Trust program, which this year will give $1,000 per month for 12 months to 100 families headed by Black women living in federally subsidized housing. The series aims to put front and center the voices of Black women who are affected most by the often-abstract policies currently debated at the national level.” (You can use editorial discretion to alter or shorten the text slightly.)
  • You may also republish the photographs included in this story.
  • If you share republished stories on social media, we’d appreciate being tagged in your posts. You can find Ms. on Twitter @MsMagazine, on Instagram @ms_magazine and on Facebook. Springboard to Opportunities is on Twitter @SpringboardToOp, on Instagram @springboard_to and on Facebook.

Have questions on the series? Read more here, and direct specific questions to Katie Fleischer at [email protected].

About

Tamika is a housing counselor who lives with her partner and five children and dreams of one day buying a home.