Remembering Kash Williams: Help His Family Leave Highland Park
Tamu Gaines, 51, and her family are trapped in their house in Highland Park by a stipulation in the affordable housing contract she signed to bring them there.
Gaines and her family have endured a home invasion, a shooting on their house and the murder of Gaines’ 19-year-old son, Kash Williams, and they have lived in fear in their own neighborhood for nearly two years. Gaines is selling the house they live in, and has found a buyer, but she has been told that there is a 10-year lien on the property prohibiting her from relinquishing the property until November 2022 or facing a $250,000 fine from the city of Highland Park.
Gaines and her family, three sons and three daughters, moved from the east side of Detroit to Highland Park, MI in 2013. Gaines bought a house in the neighborhood where they currently reside through an affordable housing program in conjunction with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and the city of Highland Park. She and her family have been outstanding citizens for the 9 years they have lived in Highland Park, and she has done community work and acted as a youth pastor at a local church where her husband, Stephen Gaines, 46, acted as minister.
However, the family has experienced safety issues since 2020, including tripped alarms and people attempting to enter the home. Gaines claimed that she called the police approximately 30 times between Sep. 2020 and March 2021 for disturbances around her house and neighborhood, including people taking pictures of her and her daughters around the neighborhood and attempted home invasions. Gaines reported that the police did not assist her at all in a meaningful way, and no one who has allegedly harassed her family has been identified or apprehended. “I feel the city has failed to do their duty,” she said. "We stopped calling the police because they weren't doing anything."
On Oct 28, 2020, a person broke into Gaines’ house through the back door, setting off an alarm at around 1 am. Gaines was woken up by the alarm, and she left her room with a gun. Her daughters Dream, Sommer and Miracle, 16, 10 and 4 years old at the time respectively, were in the house with her. Gaines turned on the light in the living room, but it was turned off by another person with an alternative light switch. She spotted the intruder in the dark and shot her gun at them, hitting the target. The intruder escaped out the front door, leaving a trail of blood behind them. Police were unable to identify or apprehend the intruder.
The next day, Gaines’ son Khody, 25 at the time, moved back to stay with them after he heard about the break in. He had moved out in 2014, but he came back with his girlfriend, who was pregnant and expecting soon. For the following week and a half, Gaines alleged that her family was harassed and her house was threatened. She reported that the house was surveilled by people she did not know, including a drone which was flown into her back yard, and that people took pictures of her and her family when they stopped at a corner store nearby. On Nov 7, her sister visited the house and told Gaines that she could see their heads through the curtains in the windows. Gaines felt her family was unsafe, so she moved the bed where Khody and his girlfriend slept into the basement.
The next day, Gaines called the police asking for a security detail to protect the house against any other incidents. She recalled that they told her that they would be there, “even if I couldn’t see them,” keeping her safe. Approximately one hour after the call, around 40 bullets were fired into the front of the house, penetrating the refrigerator in the kitchen. No one in the house was hit or injured. From then on, Gaines knew she needed to move her family out of Highland Park.
After her home was shot up, Gaines sent her oldest son, Kash Williams, 19, to live with Steven, her husband was separated from her at the time. She also sent Khody away at a police detective’s recommendation, hoping that the harassment would stop without the two men in the house. While Gaines was unsure why the home invasion and the shooting happened, she suspected that it was because a local gang in Highland Park was attempting to recruit Kash, who resisted their efforts and refused to join a gang.
Kash moved to Finland to play basketball for an organization there in 2019. He returned for Christmas, and then was forced to stay in Highland Park when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, because he was not a citizen of Finland. Back home, Gaines said, he didn’t know what to do because he only had connections with people involved with basketball. Gaines recalled that "Kash wasn't into nothing but basketball. That boy lived and dreamed basketball."
She claimed that he had been pressured to join a local gang, but refused to. Gaines reported that a group of young men had intentions to assault him and possibly shoot him. She alleged that they tried once to jump him but were unsuccessful. However, on Dec 15, 2021, Kash was shot outside his car in a parking lot in Roseville, MI. He was pronounced dead the next day. An ongoing investigation has not identified Kash’s killer at the time of publication.
Gaines was proud of Kash’s dedication to basketball, and she supported his career by investing in opportunities for him overseas. He went to Go Time Athletics in Helsinki, Finland in 2019, and Gaines joked that “it cost an arm and a leg to send him there.” However, she said she believed it was worth the investment because she recalled Kash telling her, “Momma, I'm gonna get you out the hood.” Kash never got that opportunity.
Gaines is ready to move on from her house in Highland Park. She bought it in 2013 as a part of an MSHDA program called the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP II). NSP II was developed in 2013 as a partnership between MSHDA, the city of Highland Park and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The 6-million-dollar project constructed 25 houses on a city block in Highland Park, MI. The houses, each costing around $220,000 to build, were sold for $50,000 to working families of moderate to low income, like Gaines’ family, who were willing to live in the city for at least seven years.
The program intended to bring people into the neighborhood who would provide stability to Highland Park, a city with a crime rate over 350% higher than the national average. By creating a fully developed city block instead of placing new houses next to dilapidated or abandoned ones, developers claimed that NSP II would better attract buyers who can turn the neighborhood around. These types of buyers are families with stable jobs who can "take pride in and maintain the beautiful properties and revitalize the city,” according to an article written in the Michigan Chronical in 2013. NSP II was designed to offer an investment for the families which moved into the houses, which were sold by the city for well under the projected market value. For Gaines’ family, however, all that the program has brought is fear and loss.
After all of the trauma she has experienced in her neighborhood in Highland Park, Gaines is seeking to sell her house and move out of the city. She has found a buyer for the house; however, she has been told that there is a lien on her property requiring her to maintain ownership for 10 years or pay $250,000 to Highland Park. That lien would be fulfilled in November, 2022, but Gaines doesn’t recall agreeing to that stipulation at any time during the purchase.
“I never made an agreement with Highland Park that we would stay here 10 years or my house would cost me $250,000,” said Gaines. “How can I be held accountable when I never made an agreement to Highland Park that we would stay here 10 years?”
Gaines has been working for months to sell the house without the lien on it. She has a buyer and they are under contract. The only thing preventing her from completing the sale is the 10-year lien which would be fulfilled in November. Gaines agreed to a 7-year lien which she had fulfilled, but she claimed that she was never aware of a 10-year lien. She expressed dismay at her situation. “We’re trapped in fear of an unknown lien of 250,000$ that we could never pay,” she said. “We’re supposed to be poor folks – how are we supposed to get $250,000 to move out?”
Gaines wants to leave Highland Park now. She said she fears for the safety of her remaining family if they stay any longer, even until November. She reported that her oldest daughter, Dream, 17, has also been pressured to join a gang. “We're not gang people. We go to church,” Gaines said. “We’re trying to better ourselves for our family.” She felt that that would not be possible as long as they are forced to fulfil the lien until November. “It’s an inkwell. Once you're in here you can't get out,” Gaines said.
Gaines cited the trauma and fear her family associates with their neighborhood as the reason she is selling the house. She claimed that the events at her house in October and November 2020, and the ongoing harassment her family faced with no identifiable response from the Highland Park police has caused her to “diagnose myself with PTSD.” She reported that, "I haven't sat on the porch in almost 2 years," and she no longer goes out in the neighborhood unless she has to.
Additionally, she claimed that the death of her son and the mystery surrounding it had left her family jarred. “When someone is murdered and you don’t know who did it, you walk around and you just don’t know,” she said. “I don’t sleep. I’m up all night, listening, peeking out the windows.” The trauma and unimaginable memories of loss and tragedy that Gaines and her family have suffered is taking a toll on her physical and mental health, she said, and she implored that she needed to get out of the city for herself and her daughters, who are 18, 12 and 6 years old.
Tamu Gaines said that her son Kash Williams "lived and dreamed basketball." Kash was shot and killed when he was 19 years old.