Achieving the Dream

Tamela Milan, 48, overcame many obstacles to realize her dream of owning a home. Growing up in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood and possessing a love for science, her parents sent her to the north Chicago neighborhood of Ravenswood to attend Frederick Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center.  The decision to send her to Von Steuben was also to avoid the gang violence then plaguing Austin High School.

As a young adult, Milan lived in the Henry Horner Homes, a public housing project located on Chicago’s west side with her children. While living there, she struggled with drug addiction and temporarily lost custody of five of her six children, and she had to fight to get them back. Looking to get back on her feet, she stopped using drugs and entered a methadone program. When the city started the demolition of Henry Horner Homes, she was given a Section 8 voucher and started looking for a place suitable for her kids. She stated,

“I’ve always been pretty good at getting a nice place, and I’ve been on my job now for 15 years, working with moms and babies who have issues and problems, and just need a hand-up, not a handout. It’s been my life’s work, and this was my life’s dream, to have my own home one day. I could talk about all the times, I felt like my life had a thumb on me because of all the restrictions with the housing voucher program. My son, a young black male in the city of Chicago, with his chance of being arrested one out of three, me and my entire family had to go to informal hearings, because if he got arrested, that meant the whole family had to be removed from the program. I had to go get lawyers and representation to fight losing my ability to have affordable housing, and that has always stuck with me over the years. It changes how you live your life.”

Milan works at Access Community Health Network as a Maternal and Child Health Outreach worker and Community Action Network Coordinator. She attended Concordia University and received a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management in 2014, and in 2016 received a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from National Louis University. She continued renting apartments in Chicago until 2015 when she moved to Maywood using her housing voucher. In 2015 she also remarried, and wanting to pursue her dream of owning a home, she attended a homebuyer workshop hosted by the West Cook Homeownership Center at the Oak Park Village Plaza.

“As I continued to be employed, my rent continued to go up to the point where I thought it was very viable to think about being a homeowner. What I did not know was that the Maywood Housing Authority didn’t have some of the programs similar to Chicago where they help you become a first-time homebuyer. When I heard about West Cook [Homeownership Center], I thought they might have the resources that possibly could support that notion of moving from housing assistance to homeownership.”

Milan worked with the West Cook Homeownership Center to get started on buying a home. She found an agent but got turned down four times for a loan because of her student loans. Feeling that she was at a dead-end and not knowing what to do, she called West Cook’s program director, Athena Williams, who provided her with the advice needed to qualify for a loan to purchase a home in Maywood in September 2017.