With inflation and housing costs rising at the fastest rate in a half-century, economically vulnerable communities across America are struggling more than ever to secure decent housing and stable jobs. This project follows the life of a single mother of two, Fantasia McLean, 28, who lives in New York’s Public Housing and dreams of beating the odds – and hoisting her family into the middle class through entrepreneurship and sheer grit.
Born into a broken family in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and raised by a single mother, Fantasia found herself financially cut-off in 2016 at the age of 22. She spent two years in a homeless shelter and in 2018, while three months pregnant with her second child, Fantasia moved with her 4-year old daughter Isabella into a one-bedroom apartment in New York’s Red Hook Houses. Faced with the pressures of raising two children, she transformed her one-bedroom apartment into a hair salon.
Today, Apartment 5C is a hive of activity. Clients drop every day for French weaves, plait braids and conversation. Her two children run around kitchen floors strewn with hair extensions. Webcams stream Fantasia’s work straight onto social media, where she has thousands of fans who follow her brand, Slay by Stay. She organizes monthly fashion shows, where models, friends and her daughters strut down an improvised catwalk in the housing project’s courtyard, cheered on by neighbors, a local DJ, and an ever-growing circle of her supporters, who are often other beauty-conscious young women.
For Fantasia, the salon and her brand are about more than money. It’s a way of building a community, she says. In Red Hook’s crumbling, cramped, six-story towers, in apartments without enough light or fresh air, this single, mother has also found a space to thrive.