Fourteen stairs.

I count each as Erica Chance and I walk from the first to the second floor of her home in Northeast Washington. In my hands, I hold a notebook that weighs ounces. In her arms, she holds her 5-year-old son, Ayden, who weighs nearly 40 pounds and has cerebral palsy. He can’t yet walk, so she carries him everywhere in the house.

Right now, she is taking him upstairs to play in bed with his light-up Elmo. Shortly after that, she will take him back downstairs to get a snack. Not long after that, he will fall asleep and need to be carried up to his bed again.

Up and down.

Up and down.

Up and down.

For three and a half years, Chance has spent her days making that repetitive trek while waiting for the D.C. Housing Authority to find her family a home that will accommodate her son’s needs — and frankly, she’s tired.

She’s tired of filling out paperwork and expecting calls that don’t come. She’s tired of getting her hopes up and then feeling disappointed. She’s tired of carrying a boy who has only gotten heavier as her wait has gotten longer.

“I need to switch arms,” she says at one point while holding him.

“I’ve been trying to find a good back brace,” she says a little while later.

Chance is 35 and spends her days as a security guard for D.C. public schools. That means that for 40 hours a week, she protects other people’s children. What she is asking — or, really, what she’s been asking for years — is that she get some help protecting hers.

“I want him to be independent,” she says of Ayden. “I want him to know that regardless of his disability, even if he can’t walk, that he’s normal.”

For Ayden to reach his full potential and stay safe, she says, he needs space to move around in his wheelchair and to practice using his walker. He needs a room that will fit a bed that is being specially made for him because he sometimes has seizures and falls out of the small, plastic Paw Patrol bed that sits in the corner of his mom’s room.

He needs someone to call his mom already and tell her what she’s been waiting more than half his life to hear: her family’s move date.

Before she had Ayden, Chance and her two other children, a son and daughter, who are now 19 and 10, fit comfortably in their three-bedroom unit located in a public housing complex. Then, she gave birth to Ayden on Aug. 5, 2014, and by the time he was 6 months old, Chance realized “something wasn’t right.” He couldn’t sit up on his own. He also wasn’t hitting other milestones. Even now, he can say only a few words and you have to know him to understand them.

Evan Cass, a lawyer with the Children’s Law Center, has been working with Chance to help her family get appropriate housing. He describes the length of her wait as unusual but her frustrations as common among public housing residents who, even after they get their transfer requests approved by the D.C. Housing Authority, have no way of knowing how long they will have to wait before moving.

“It’s frustrating as an advocate but even more frustrating for a family,” Cass says.

He says Chance was first approved for a transfer in April 2016. At the time, Ayden was not yet 2.

In 2017, an appropriate unit became available, but Cass says Chance’s salary was miscalculated by the Housing Authority, so she was not allowed to move in. The Children’s Law Center fought the issue in court and settled the case, but by then, the unit was no longer available. As part of the settlement, Chance’s name was supposed to move to the top of the waiting list.

That was in March 2018. Ayden was 3.

“They keep telling me I’m at the top of the list, but what number is that?” Chance says on a recent afternoon while playing with the 5-year-old on her living room floor. She keeps her legs stretched out to catch him because he can go from sitting down to falling backward without warning. She says his doctors have told her that he is at the same developmental level as a 9-month-old. She believes he would be more advanced if the family could take advantage of more services, but to do that, they need more space.

“I didn’t think it was going to take this long,” Chance says. I ask her whether she is hopeful that the move will come soon. “I’m not even on the chart for no hope because I’ve been waiting this long.”

She starts crying as she talks about how hard she has worked to try to get her son, a boy who loves music and macaroni and cheese, the support he needs. She gets up at 4:50 every morning to get herself ready for work and Ayden dressed for school. In the afternoons, he has an aide who watches him. That aide also has to carry him up and down those stairs, and Chance says it is even more difficult for her because she is smaller and older. The railing is loose from being tugged so often.

The aide and Chance’s 10-year-old daughter were also forced to duck one afternoon when they heard gunfire nearby. The shed outside the family’s house shows that is not a rare occurrence. More than 40 bullet holes cover one side. In February, after Chance’s van was shot, she submitted a second request for a transfer — this time citing safety concerns.

Jose Sousa, a spokesperson for the D.C. Housing Authority, which is an independent government agency, confirmed that Chance is at the top of the waiting list for reasonable accommodation transfers.

He said her situation poses placement challenges because the agency has a limited number of four-bedroom units, which is what her family qualifies for, and not all of those units are able to accommodate her son’s needs. The agency has 473 four-bedroom units, and of those, 18 are accessible for people with disabilities.

Sousa said the agency’s records reflect Chance has been offered three different units. Advocates with the Children’s Law Center say several offers have come from the agency, but none of them have been adequate. They say one was for the unit Chance lost because of her miscalculated salary and another was for a temporary unit that had stairs in the front, making it inaccessible. That one also didn’t have enough bedrooms. Cass says over the summer Chance was told that the agency planned to combine two units to meet her family’s needs. Then, after months of thinking that construction was underway, she learned the plan was not moving forward.

Chance says she has tried to find a way around the agency. She looked into whether she could get a home from Habitat for Humanity, but then she learned that those houses only offer three bedrooms. She says that would leave her facing an impossible decision.

“It puts me in the position of, ‘Do I put my 19-year-old out to help my 5-year-old?’ ” she says, wiping the tears that start coming fast. Her older son, who is still in high school, has learning disabilities and nowhere to go. Even so, she says, “he’s willing to do it.”

Soon, the family may no longer have to make those kinds of calculations. Soon, they may get to leave those stairs and that bullet-riddled shed behind.

On Friday, Sousa said the agency is working on getting a home ready for them.

“There is active work taking place at a unit in Southwest that will accommodate the needs of her family,” he said. He said that effort began a few weeks ago and about four more weeks of work is needed.

In the meantime, at the house where Ayden has spent his entire life, the Christmas decorations are already up and the family is waiting for a special delivery. In a few weeks, a bed that Ayden’s medical staff recommended for his safety is expected to arrive. When it does, Chance will turn the family’s living room into his bedroom. She has no choice. It’s the only room in the house where it will fit.

Chance was hoping to hold off on ordering Ayden’s bed until the family got a new home — but she is tired of waiting.

She is tired of carrying him up and down those stairs.

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