A series on affordable housing issues in Hall County and Gainesville. See more stories, interactive maps, videos and a list of resources at the above link.
In the claustrophobic confines of Brenda and Darrell Carter’s Gainesville apartment, 26-year-old Cortney Jackson sits on a sofa surrounded by medical equipment, framed photos, dog-eared Christian devotional books, ceramic statuettes and prescription pill bottles.
A pillow propped beneath one knee to keep her balanced, Cortney hums a quiet note under her breath. She is blind but seems to focus all of her attention on the space 5 feet away, where her mother sits.
“Hold your head up,” Brenda Carter tells her daughter. “Mama loves you. Yes, I do. Mama’s sitting right across from you here on the loveseat. I ain’t going nowhere. I wouldn’t leave you, sweet girl.”
Ever since Carter gave birth to Cortney — born premature at 2 pounds, 4 ounces — they have lived together in less-than-ideal conditions. They’ve got a roof over their heads, which they are very thankful for, but due to the lack of space their quality of life has suffered.
She applied for assistance in November with Habitat for Humanity of Hall County.
Executive Director Ann Nixon said the Carters’ application is under review as one of 26 other local applications. The process takes, on average, 18 months to complete.
Carter is hopeful for her daughter’s sake that her family will be selected.
Cortney’s life has never been easy. She spent the first three months at Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta. She was born Sept. 16, 1989, with bleeding on her brain and cerebral palsy. All of this, Carter said, because her then-boyfriend — who she said was Cortney’s biological father — physically abused her.
“He started beating me,” Carter said. “He kicked me with a steel toe boot. That’s why my baby came into this world handicapped.”
After an emergency delivery at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Cortney and her mother were transported to Scottish Rite.
“The folks at Scottish Rite were awesome, but, I give God all the glory my little girl’s still with us,” Carter said, gesturing toward her daughter on the sofa. “She’s my pride and joy. She’s my miracle.”
Despite the cards she was dealt, Cortney communicates with others as best she can. Cortney is opinionated. She prefers sitting outside, so she can breathe the fresh air. She loves music, but is partial to gospel and Beethoven.
Unable to speak, she uses her hands to weigh in on a given social situation. If she feels for any reason that a person holding her hand is untrustworthy or skeptical about her, she’ll refuse and release his or her fingers. If Cortney approves of the company, she’ll hold his or her hand and gently squeeze. She’ll caress the hand.
“Hold your head up, baby girl,” Carter said, watching her daughter slump toward the edge of the sofa. At the sound of mom’s voice, Cortney moaned under her breath, easing back into the sofa.
“She’s a good girl,” Carter said. “I love her so much. She don’t give me a bit of trouble.”
They are happy together. Carter has built a life around caring for her daughter, and it’s clear their lives are a shared, inseparable joy. But the fact remains; they have simply run out of space and they don’t have the money to do anything about it.
They’d buy or rent a bigger home if they could afford it, but the family is living off monthly disability, Social Security and Darrell Carter’s paycheck from his job with the city of Gainesville. Brenda Carter worked as a parapro for Hall County Schools prior to the birth of her daughter, but has taken care of her full time since birth.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 57 million Americans — or 19 percent of the population — have some sort of disability.
Of buildings and apartments constructed since 2003 and later, only 6 percent include features to make them accessible for people with disabilities. Few single-family homes offer accessibility features, according to a recent report from Harvard University.
“I’m praying for a home,” Carter said. “We just need something we can afford. We’ve been in small apartments since my baby was born. We just need something that will fit my girl’s needs. All I want is a home for this child before I leave this world.”
At this, Cortney moaned softly. She moved her head gently from side to side.
“It’s all right, baby girl,” Carter said, comforting. “I’m not going to leave you now. I would never leave you until the good Lord called me home.”