Organizing. Consciousness. Power.

Urban Angels: Carol and Smiley Robinson


Carol and Smiley Robinson have owned a 22-unit boarding house in Liberty City since 1978. Since then, the boarding house has been home to hundreds of homeless, mentally and physically disabled members of the community.

They have collected whatever people can pay for rent each month and provide three square meals a day, seven days a week for everyone living there. The Robinson’s have known from early on that affordable and accessible housing, as well as nutrition is hard to acquire for some people in Liberty City and they have dedicated their lives to making sure that people’s basic needs are met.

The couple has been married for over 50 years; they bought the apartment building, located at 1600 NW 61st street, with their own money 34 years ago. In the early 1990’s other competing boarding homes were being built in the community and as a result, the Robinson’s saw a dramatic decline in tenants. To counteract the loss of tenants they applied for a $100,000 loan in 2008 in order to fix up the property and compete with the new housing facilities springing up around them.

Trifactor, the company they took the loan with, only agreed to give the Robinson’s about $63,000 and had them unknowingly sign on to a Balloon Mortgage, which they now owe $83,000 on. The added financial strain of this predatory loan diminished their savings, leaving these angelic and kindhearted couple with financial challenges.

The Robinsons hope to manage the property for another year and then pass it on to members of the community to be used for either community housing or some other collective function. Though they are faced with numerous financial challenges they continue to maintain an example of kindness and benevolence, supplying housing and meals to those who are without.  

However, they would need $10,000 a month in order to pay for the food they prepare three times a day for the tenants, water and sewer, the mortgage, a car note, and property insurance. Carol and Smiley have not been able to pay their car note for the past few months because they have wanted to make sure the needs of the current tenants are met, which means making sure the mortgage, insurance, etc is paid on time. If they were able to rehabilitate the complex and rent out all 22 units (which could accommodate 47 occupants) then, the Robinsons would make about $30,000 a month. This would cover not only the basic needs of the property but could go towards the continual upkeep of the property as well as being able to set aside money for when they pass the property to someone(s) in the community.