April 1—Rent’s due: Struggling to pay when there are no jobs
Jade Brooks at her apartment, Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in Boston. It's the first of the month and everybody knows the rent's due. Wednesday is the first time the landlord is knocking on the door since the coronavirus turned the economy upside down. | Elise Amendola / AP

AP—It’s the first of the month, and everybody knows the rent’s due. For millions of Americans, Wednesday is the first time the landlord is knocking on the door since the coronavirus outbreak turned the economy upside down.

Many of those renters are without jobs—nearly 3.3 million people in the U.S. filed for unemployment the week of March 16, about five times the previous high in 1982. Most state and local governments are putting evictions on pause as states prepare to pay unemployment and the federal government prepares to send stimulus checks. So for most, April’s knock won’t come with a notice to get out.

But a roof over the head is one of the most basic needs in life. Without money for rent, how can the other bills get paid? And while many will get a reprieve in April, eventually the rent comes due, whether or not the restaurant, plant, or construction site re-opens when the COVID-19 threat lessens.

Here are some of the stories of Americans trying to make the rent, this month and beyond.

___

At 21 years old, Jade Brooks pulls in her family’s only full-time salary, working at a hospital switchboard.

Brooks’ mother just lost her job at a health insurance company, a casualty of the plummeting economy. She’s found part-time work at the hospital, but between them, they make only $400 weekly after taxes and insurance, Brooks said. Their rent is $1,810.

During sleepless nights, Brooks worries most about her 8-year-old cousin, who lives with them.

“I don’t want her to grow up in a homeless shelter, having to sleep in a bunk bed with other people, asking why we have to stand in a long line to get a room to sleep in, why we have to stand in a long line to get food, why she can’t invite her friends over,” Brooks said. “It’s hard to explain that to an 8-year-old.”

– Michael Casey, Boston

___

Itza Sanchez knows she can’t make her $400 rent for April. She’s praying to Virgin of Guadalupe that she doesn’t get kicked out of her Richmond, Virginia, mobile-home park.

Sanchez made her money searching for and recycling scrap metal and selling tamales in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood. Fear of getting sick has stopped both income streams.

A single mother of two who immigrated from Honduras to the U.S. 14 years ago, Sanchez’s 7-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son have been eating lunches delivered to the neighborhood by schools and depending on churches for other meals.

Itza Sanchez | Courtesy of Itza Sanchez via AP

“I’m basically penniless,” Sanchez, 39, said in Spanish.

She hasn’t heard from the landlord about what will happen if the rent isn’t paid. So she keeps praying. “May she help us. May the virgin put her love over us and help us.”

– Regina Garcia Cano, Washington

___

Andrea Larson made $70,000 a year curating wine lists and suggesting pairings to customers at 5th & Taylor. But the popular Nashville restaurant closed its dining area, and working as a sommelier isn’t something Larson can do from home.

The first unemployment check was $275 for a week. Larson said she was humiliated but applied for food stamps. “I’m screwed financially,” Larson said. “If I do pay my rent, it’s going to eat into my food money.”

Andrea Larson | Andrea Larson via AP

Larson, 42, moved from a high-rise downtown apartment to a house in east Nashville four months ago. Rent was cheaper. She planned to pay off debt and start saving. Instead, she called credit card companies and said she couldn’t pay the minimum.

Larson’s restaurant offered a few shifts answering phones for takeout, but she figures it’s not worth the risk of getting COVID-19. “I do wine, and nobody wants to hear about wine right now,” she said. “They just want to chug it.”

– Travis Loller, Nashville

___

Roushaunda Williams was able to scrimp and use credit card cash advances to pay the $1,850 rent for April for her two-bedroom Uptown Chicago apartment.

But the rent comes due again in 30 days. Can she afford a smaller apartment in her building if one’s available? Should she move in with friends if they’ll let her?

“April 1 isn’t even here yet, and I’m already working on what I’m going to do for May 1,” Williams, 52, said.

Roushaunda Williams | Roushaunda Williams via AP

Before being laid off, she made drinks and chatted with people from around the world for 20 years as a bartender at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel in the heart of Chicago’s downtown Loop.

Income depended on tips—in the best times, she’d make $70,000 to $100,000 annually. Now, she’s on unemployment for the first time and searching for work.

– Kathleen Foody, Chicago

___

It’s a lousy choice, but an easy one for personal trainer and apparel designer Sakai Harrison— food in the refrigerator over April rent for his Brooklyn apartment.

Harrison, 27, moved from Atlanta to see whether he could succeed in the toughest place in the world. And he was on his way, with 20 clients training one-on-one. Then, his gym shut down with the rest of the city. And the $1,595 rent is due.

“The way I see it, the whole world is on pause,” Harrison said. “I’d rather allocate my money towards my actual survival, which would be food.”

Sakai Harrison | Natiah Jones via AP

An acquaintance is letting Harrison use a basement as a makeshift gym. It has dumbbells, a bench, and a punching bag left by a previous tenant. Harrison wears disposable gloves and keeps his distance. A few clients keep coming, but not as many as before.

“My clients are like my family, for the most part, especially in New York, because I’m here alone,” he said.

– Aaron Morrison, New York

___

Tinisha Dixon was homeless before she moved into her current apartment and is now struggling to make the rent. She said she was about to start a new job at the State Road and Tollway Authority. But the job was put on hold, thanks to the virus.

The rent bill of $1,115 is due whether she’s working or not. It covers the apartment near downtown Atlanta she shares with her partner and their five kids. Dixon, 26, said she’s trying to braid hair, and her partner has sought work as a security guard.

Tinisha Dixon | Tinisha Dixon via AP

Dixon’s landlord had gone to court to evict the family before the coronavirus. Now she worries not making April’s payment will strengthen that case.

“Are we going to be out on the street when this is over?” she said. “Because this is what we’ve been fighting for this whole time, not being back out on the street.”

– Sudhin Thanawala, Atlanta

___

Neal Miller is refusing to pay April’s rent, to make a point.

Miller’s last stable job was as an adjunct professor at Loyola University in Chicago. He recently was working temporary jobs, until that dried up, thanks to the virus.

Miller, 38, shares a house on the west side of Chicago with four others and pays $400 of the $1,500 monthly rent.

Neil Miller | Neil Miller via AP

Miller and his roommates decided to join leaders of Chicago activist groups calling for a rent strike amid the virus outbreak.

“We wrote a letter, sort of stated our situation,” Miller said. “We’re still waiting to hear back. We’re not sure if that’s a good sign or if that lack of response means we’ll be hearing from a lawyer.”

– Kathleen Foody, Chicago

This is an abridged version of an article published by Associated Press.


CONTRIBUTOR

Jeffrey Collins
Jeffrey Collins

Reporter for AP in Columbia, S.C.

Comments

comments

MOST POPULAR