Kids run around playing at the Richard Allen Court Apartments, a car drives through the parking lot with rap music turned up a little too loud, and Betsy Williams sits in her office full of colorful art, making the whole place tick.
Williams is the community manager at the Richard Allen Court Apartments, an affordable apartment complex subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The complex in the East Central Neighbhorhood is owned by Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church with apartment management done by Kiemle Hagood, which employs Williams.
While Williams handles the typical duties of an apartment complex manager like collecting rent, apartment maintenance requests and keeping up with HUD requirements, she also coordinates with organizations to provide services to her residents. Not only does she make sure each resident’s needs are met, she serves as a “mother figure” to most of the residents, said Pastor of Bethel AME, Benjamin D. Watson Sr.
“You deal with peoples whole life when they’re here,” Williams said. “You see their kids grow up, you see them grow up, you see their transitions, you see all these things. This is a family complex. So you see the whole life of people in their day to day.”
Williams moved to Spokane 28 years ago when her husband, Charles Henry Williams, was stationed in at Fairchild Air Force Base. She initially got a job in finance, the same field she had been working in before they moved, but when her mother had a stroke she needed more flexibility.
So Williams became community manager at Richard Allen Court. That was 16 years ago. Since then the complex has gone through ups and downs.
“Before people would look at Richard Allen like, ‘oh, the bad part of town.’ But, you know, it’s a home, it’s a community and that’s what we strive to do is build a community for people,” Williams said. “This is not the hood or anything. This is a home.”
At one point, Williams’ son Charles Lamont Williams was running an after-school program there. But the program’s funding ran out and young residents now get those services elsewhere.
Some parts of the last year have been particularly hard, Williams said.
“I had really hell I went through for last year,” she said.
In January, shots were fired at the complex. Despite the fear and frustration, Williams continues to work to keep the community safe.
“You still care for the people,” she said. “You still say, ‘Don’t you realize kids could have been outside?’ And that’s where you know I get strict and have to keep that community together.”
After the shooting, Williams had Southeast Neighborhood Resource Officer Jake Willard speak to residents in the community room at the complex.
The pair already had a “great working relationship,” Willard said.
In his job, Willard said it’s not common to have a community manager “really, really reach out.”
“I had her on a speed dial,” Willard said.
“She really puts her heart and soul into really lifting up that community.”
The working relationship also has helped residents build good relationships with law enforcement, Williams said.
“The police are there to help us not to hinder us, and unless we stick together and make this a community effort we’ll be overtaken by things that we cannot control,” Williams said.
Even now many things aren’t in Williams’ control. COVID-19 was a huge setback for many of her residents. Some of them lost their jobs and kids weren’t in school. The one constant has been Williams, facilitating YWCA and food bank meal drop-offs.
Williams stays in touch with the principal of the nearby school and ensures supplies and homework are dropped off. She connects residents to rental relief and mental health resources.
“We’re connecting the dots with everybody…to be able to provide the services required by HUD but also to go above and beyond providing resources to help residents be self sufficient,” she said. “Whatever resource you give can change a life. It can shift it.”
Barb Schroeder, director of the multifamily department at Kiemle Hagood said Williams goes the extra mile for residents. Recently when SNAP had COVID-19 funding, Schroeder said, Williams took the time to help at least 15 residents fill out applications.
“I think she’s a very patient person,” Schroeder said. “She takes the time to work with people if she can.”
Williams went back to school to get a Master of Education degree and is now working on her Master of Divinity. Two years ago she began pastoring an AME church in Great Falls.
Even with all that’s on her plate, Williams finds time to celebrate residents’ success. A resident who Williams met when they were living at a homeless shelter, recently moved out of Richard Allen and into a larger apartment.
“I was so excited, we kind of cried. I hate to see them go but I was happy for them,” Williams said. “They were able to move and find more success for themselves.”
Over her time as community manager, Williams has seen “generational change” with kids who grew up at Richard Allen now going to college.
A big part of that change according to former Bethel AME Pastor, Lonnie Mitchell, is Williams willingness to go out of her way for people.
“She has the heart where the people just look to her for help,” Mitchell said.
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