Waitlist Success Q&A Series – Clark Caraven: ‘Whenever I called, CHA was there for me’

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In 2021, the Cambridge Housing Authority released its “Can’t Wait List: Who Are The 21,000?” original publication to help humanize the many issues surrounding the affordable housing crisis seen on the national stage and, specifically, the steep demand for low affordable housing inventory across Massachusetts.

Cambridge alone is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country.

This resource proved to be a valuable tool, as real people from the CHA’s actual waiting lists were able to appeal to readers in their own words as to what a successful outcome after years-long wait times would mean to them.

Native Cantabrigian, Clark Caraven, spent six years on the waiting list and says the timing couldn’t have been better. Caraven was a cook for 20 years before transitioning into human services for the rest of his career.

CHA: Do you remember where you were when you found out the CHA had an apartment for you?

Clark: “I do, but I specifically remember seeing a big envelope sitting in my mailbox and getting a good feeling as to what it probably was. Truth is, I had seen some other people around me receive these big envelopes with the same notification and something just hit me when I saw it. It was a feeling of hope and a confidence that it was my time after waiting so long.

I opened it on the spot, read through it, and instantly felt a calming relief. At the time, I had grown ready to move on from my current living situation, and now it was time to look ahead and show up for an information session.”

CHA: Did the information session include a tour of the unit?

Clark: “Yes it did, but I have to give credit where it’s due. I felt that the one shown to me didn’t fit my needs, I’ll be honest. I was hesitant to share that with them because I was grateful to be there, but I felt welcomed enough to feel that I could chat with [CHA District Manager] Alison Morneault and share my feelings. She understood completely where I was coming from and was very transparent about how very little wiggle room there is to offer me something else that was suitable under the same timeline, but that she would do her best to see what my options are. My main takeaway however, was being impressed by how kind she was about it. What cemented it for me was when an executive level employee at the CHA called me to check in and hear more about what I was hoping for – they cared, and it meant the world to me.”

CHA: We love hearing about how pro-active our staff members are when it comes to putting our residents first.

Clark: “And it wasn’t just that situation. I want to make sure I give flowers to Tonya, Yaw, Karen, and Hilary at the management office as well. It’s a nice thing to reflect, because when I first went in there I definitely had a chip on my shoulder and we turned that around quick. Now when I go by, they invite me in with a smile and are always so kind, whether its helping me make a copy of something or just to chat and catch up. They are the best and I know I’m in good hands. [CHA Service Coordinator] Yaw especially, he’s fantastic at what he does and has been invaluable for me.”

CHA: What is today’s Cambridge like compared to the Cambridge you grew up in?

Clark: “There’s much more people. To me that’s the biggest difference. You could walk through one of the Square’s and see a total of 15 people, but now we’re all swarmed around each other and it’s much more populated. Everyone wants to be here and naturally prices go up when that happens. I’ve always lived independently and I’m proud of it, but when demand all of a sudden skyrocketed to live in Cambridge, it affected me in a big way. I was able to move into my own apartment at 18-years-old with ease and paid about $500 a month. You would see “For Rent” signs in windows with a phone number and that was it. Now everything is a process and takes a lot of time, on top of being expensive. I applied to two other housing authorities and they would not support me further. In one of our neighboring cities, I’ll never forget calling for a status update and I had gone down two thousand spots because I wasn’t a resident of that city. That was a helpless feeling.

CHA stayed consistent from the start. They were honest it would take a while, but whenever I called, CHA was there for me. I never felt like they were waving me away like the others. I would try to keep my calls to every few months, and a live person would kindly update me on where I was on the list for each property I qualified for. Those updates were so reassuring for me and helped me to stay patient.”

CHA: Thank you, Clark, for the kind words. If you had to put your finger on it, what would you attribute to how expensive it has become to rent privately in the Cambridge area?

Clark: “To me, it was when rent control was eliminated. That’s when I noticed the change, landlords were free to charge really high or raise at will. People like me, who are homegrown, really struggled with that. It made me reflect on the good times living in this city, growing up with my parents and siblings in a house on Hubbard Street, walking to high school and cutting through Harvard Yard everyday, playing basketball with my friends.

I laugh because I remember when Patrick Ewing first arrived to Cambridge from Jamaica, he didn’t really know the game of basketball well. I used to beat Ewing one-on-one, 21 to 11. But very quickly, when they started getting him into the gym, I stood no chance. Patrick is a great guy, I haven’t seen or talked to him in years, but it’s all love. I’m very happy for his success. We knew he was destined for the NBA, he was 6’9 at 15-years-old.”

CHA: What would your message be to the people currently on the waiting list?

Clark: “All you can do it wait. Everything went perfect for me when I was patient with the process. Keep calling the waitlist line every few months, you will get someone on the phone and they will tell you what your status is or if you need to do something. That’s what I did, and I always felt better for doing it. The CHA is accessible and trying to help, so use them.”