Aleida Ramirez has worked two or three jobs most of her life. She lost all of them in the early stages of California’s shelter-in-place order and over the months that followed, she also lost the thousands of dollars she’d been able to save from years of working.
In September, her rent check bounced when a car insurance payment automatically deducted from her bank account brought her savings $100 short. She spent her last dollars on the $25 charge she said her landlord made her pay for the bounced check.
October was the first time in her life she missed a rent payment.
Ramirez, her 11-year-old daughter and 21-year-old autistic nephew live at Clayton’s Crossings, a south Concord complex of nearly 300 apartments. Most tenants received a rent increase just as school started in September. The rent on her three-bedroom apartment has increased nearly $500 since she moved in three years ago, to $1,868 a month. Still, that’s about $1,000 below the market rate, according to the renting platform Zumper.
A dozen distressed tenants gathered in October in front of the property to protest the rent increase and demand management make needed repairs. Neither the building’s owner nor Avenue5 Residential, the building’s management company, responded to requests for comment. Clayton’s Crossing qualifies as affordable housing under the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.
Since March, Ramirez has been making about $150 in a good week, she says, running deliveries for Instacart, a gig job she can pick up on weekends. But that happens only when she can convince a friend to watch her daughter, Emily, who goes to virtual school. Those days leave Ramirez with a few hours to make a few dollars. Her nephew has also been able to pick up two shifts a week at a local McDonald’s.
Ramirez, 42, now has less than two months to pay a quarter of her rent for the months of October to December, under the state’s order protecting renters. She fears eviction won’t be far down the line. If she gets kicked out, she says, there’s no way she’ll be able to find adequate housing for the three of them at her current price.
Even if she does convince a landlord to rent to an unemployed single caregiver of two, how would she pay for a security deposit? She says she’s already been fasting to save on food; her car’s registration fees are past due.
“It’s like, which hole do I cover this month?” she asked.
So, the U.S. citizen is considering moving to Guatemala, her home country, or Los Angeles, where she has family.
“We’re all in the same boat,” Ramirez said. “Actually, there’s no boat. I should say we’re all drowning together.”
This article is part of Staying Sheltered, a project produced by California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.