Opinion | When the threat of eviction meets the threat of the coronavirus

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One week passed, then another, and Mr. Loaiza still did not know if help had arrived. On June 23, the owner texted him. “Jhon, you said you were leaving the house last weekend. Is the house vacant now? “

Mr. Loaiza felt drained and helpless; “Helpless,” he told me. He started to lose sleep and the stress took over his body like poison. Mr. Loaiza seriously considered committing suicide. He had never had that fading thought before, but the utter hopelessness of the situation was suffocating. The marshals who carry out evictions are full of stories of suicide: the morning punch at the door followed by a single gunshot from inside the apartment, the brutal sound of abandonment. From 2005 to 2010, years when housing costs were skyrocketing across the country, suicides attributed to eviction and foreclosure doubled.

Mr. Loaiza pushed him to fall asleep, bury himself, and with the seemingly stalled rent aid, he started calling friends in San Antonio, asking if they would consider hosting his. family. No one had room. Finally, friends in Florida donated two bedrooms in their home and storage space in their garage. Mr. Loaiza and Ms. Bedoya started packing and cleaning the apartment, hoping to get their security deposit back. To afford the U-Haul, Mr. Loaiza jumped at the first job opportunity he found, joining a construction crew working inside a large building.

“Jhon, is the house now vacant?” Mr. Acosta texted again on July 1. By dawn, the family had started their journey east. Mr. Loaiza was driving the U-Haul, while Ms. Bedoya and the girls followed in the family car. A few hours later, Mr. Loaiza began to feel sick, feverish. The situation got so bad that Ms Bedoya made a habit of keeping her husband on the phone to make sure he was lucid.

A legal aid lawyer volunteered to represent Mr. Loaiza and Ms. Bedoya in their absence. The day before the eviction court hearing, the lawyer called the Department of Neighborhood Services and Housing to inquire about the payment of housing assistance for the broken-down family. She learned that $ 3,000 had in fact gone to the owner and that he had cashed the check weeks earlier, on June 19, days before texting Jhon about the house being released. (Mr. Acosta did not consent to an interview, despite multiple requests, but told me by text message that “the tenant has left the apartment to find work elsewhere. The court records will show it.” Mr. Loaiza told me he moved because he felt pressured out of his home and he never told Mr. Acosta he was moving to find a job.)

All of this pain – stress so crippling that suicide begins to come across as relief, the severing of ties with church and school, friendships; ripping a family out of the community and out of work – it wasn’t for $ 3,190. If it was for anything, it was for $ 190. The lawyer tried to call Mr. Loaiza over and over again, but she could not reach him. By that time, he was already in Florida, lying in a hospital bed with Covid-19.

Rent – this is the most greedy of bills. For many families, it grows every year, arbitrarily, almost like magic, not because of home improvements; just because. “Insist,” they say, when they give you a new lease with a steep increase in rent. Or “costs are going up”. What they mean is, “Because I can. And unlike failing to pay other bills, defaulting on rent can have immediate and devastating consequences, pushing families into poverty and homelessness. If you can’t afford enough food, you can usually get food stamps. If you miss a mortgage payment, you usually have 120 days before your bank can initiate the foreclosure process. But if you can’t pay your rent, you can lose your home in a matter of weeks. In the first half of July, landlords received 37% of total rent from families living in Class C properties – typically older units, which house low- and middle-income workers – up from 80% in the last two months. first three months of the year.

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