Coronavirus cost me my job; without rent forgiveness, it will cost me my home

A coronavirus rent strike could leave renters vulnerable ...

By Patricia Mendoza, Special to CalMatters | 

It was a few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic when I got the call from my boss. I could tell from the sound of her voice what I was about to hear: She had no choice but to let me go.

Just like that, I’d lost my job — a job I loved, that I did well, and that I needed to feed my two kids and pay my rent.

My boss apologized and promised I could return “when things got back to normal.” But when will things get back to normal? And what will happen to my family in the meantime?

My heart sank as I wondered how we were going to stay in our home. The answer is that we won’t be able to, unless our elected leaders cancel and forgive my rent until this coronavirus crisis is over.

I am a single mother in Imperial Beach, raising two amazing, hardworking children. My daughter is a junior in high school and my son is 9 years old. Until two weeks ago, I worked for a company transporting patients to non-emergency medical appointments. Sometimes I worked 12-hour days. I even worked Christmas Eve. I recently tried to get another job at a grocery store, but the woman in charge of hiring was concerned because I have asthma, which puts me at higher risk from COVID-19.
This is my dilemma: I need to make money, but I also need to stay healthy for my children.
Patricia Mendoza. 

My kids are my rock. I’m doing my best to be their teacher in between their virtual classroom hangouts. But we’re all scared about the same thing: How are we going to pay the bills if I can’t work? When I was employed, I made $2,000 a month — a whopping 75 percent went to rent, leaving just $500 to feed my family, not to mention pay utility bills and internet service so my kids can do their school work. Without my job, paying rent is impossible. 

The added stress has also taken a toll on my health. Anxiety increases my asthma attacks, and unsurprisingly, my asthma has gotten worse over the last few weeks.

I couldn’t pay April’s rent, and I won’t be able to pay rent for May either. A few weeks ago, I joined as a member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and started organizing with my neighbors to learn our rights and fight to have rents and mortgage payments cancelled.

I learned that I couldn’t be evicted right now. But this was only a temporary relief. Even if I do get my job back, I won’t be able to pay back the rent I owe from months of being unable to work. That debt would be crippling and could cost us our housing.

In joining this movement, I have also learned that I am not alone in this struggle. To make the government realize how much we need their protection, we must work together. Small landlords too! If we can’t pay, how can they pay their mortgage? 

Big corporations are getting help.  Where’s the help for the rest of us? 

On May 1, I joined thousands of tenants across the country in the rent strike movement, turning our economic reality into a political act and demanding that our government step up. Gov. Gavin Newsom has shown strong leadership in protecting our public health — now we need strong leadership to protect us economically. 

Last week, my 9-year-old son offered me the $53.47 he’d saved from recycling neighbors’ cans to put toward our rent. I couldn’t have been more proud of him, but it also broke my heart. No child should ever feel this kind of responsibility or fear of losing the roof over his head. To our elected leaders: Please act now to cancel rent and mortgage payments until the crisis lifts.

Patricia Mendoza is a single mother of two who participated in the rent strike on Friday, May 1, Mendoza wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California's Capitol works and why it matters.


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