“I’m basically living in fear because I don’t want to be homeless,” said Michelle Bennett. “I don’t really have anywhere to go without an income during the pandemic.”
Bennett is a month-to-month tenant and failure to pay rent means she has technically outstayed her lease. Landlords are filing evictions as “tenant hold overs” — when renters remain in a property after the lease expires. Many judges are ruling in favor of the landlords despite the extenuating circumstances and federal and state evictions bans, according to Maryland Legal Aid.
“A loophole has been created that allows landlords to continue evicting tenants that cannot pay rent” said Nicole Portnov, a lawyer with Maryland Legal Aid, representing Bennett. “Ms. Bennett is a quintessential example of this phenomenon, and in Ms. Bennett’s case this has led to the use of a relatively seldom used eviction statute to put people in the street during a pandemic.”
An Emergency Rental Assistance program was created under the Trump administration to help renters like Bennett, but she says she was unable to apply because the funds dried up.
“When you call it’s like — no money. Or call back next month, maybe there’ll be money then. And then you call back the next month is still ‘oh we’re out of money,'” said Bennett.
“I’m not asking for a handout, I’m just trying to keep me and my kids together,” said Bennett, who has not been able to find another job. “We’re in a FEMA like situation — we don’t have a flood or hurricane — but were in a pandemic.”
Women in the hospitality industry hit hardest
“It’s maddening, it’s frustrating, it’s defeating,” said Gabbie Riley.
In March, Riley was furloughed from her sales job at the Loews Hotel in Minneapolis, with the hope it would return. The leisure and hospitality industry has lost more jobs than any other US industry since the pandemic began.
“I don’t know how I can describe it. I was the one that put in the work…and to know that I just had to hand that off to the men is a lot to process,” said Riley who detailed her story in op-ed for CNN the day before she found out she was laid off.
As a single mother, Riley can no longer afford health insurance for her and her 19 year-old son. She’s on unemployment, but says her savings is keeping her family afloat.
“Two years ago this week, I was accepting an award in front of 500 people for the ‘Hotel Rep of the Year – East’ – earned from industry client and peer nominations and voting. This year I am unemployed trying to figure out what comes next. A total 180,” she said.
Food banks are out of money
On a recent Friday afternoon, the line for food at The Campaign Against Hunger in Brooklyn, New York, stretched down a city block. The scene repeats seven days a week.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, this Brooklyn food bank alone has served 1.4 million people — made possible, in part, from government funding that is drying up fast.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do because I still have food to buy,” said Melony Samuels, Executive Director of The Campaign Against Hunger. “I need assurance from all our policymakers that listen, you started, we need to finish this thing. We started helping families, we can’t leave them in thin air.”
“Many people are not eligible for SNAP (food stamps), but they’re here because they’re not eligible and they still cannot make ends meet,” said Samuels. “SNAP needs to be fixed and money needs to be in the budget directly to food pantries, food banks that are actually working on the ground.”
— CNN’s Kate Trafecante contributed to this report