Millions of tenants could soon be evicted. This is the story of a family

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Andre Cleland

Source: Andrew Cleland

Andrew Cleland is trying not to panic about his July 6 deportation hearing.

Instead, the 75-year-old is focusing on what he can do to keep himself and his 82-year-old wife Carol in their apartment.

He asked for rent assistance. He has planned how he will get to the courthouse. A recent accident has ruined his car and he cannot afford to buy a new one. And so he set aside the $ 20 each way it will cost for a cab.

He and Carol also called their children, asking if they could live with them if they were forced to move out of the one-bedroom apartment in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where they have lived for seven years.

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He and his wife have never been deported. However, insufficient retirement savings, difficulty rehiring, and a lack of affordable housing have made many older Americans particularly vulnerable to financial shocks like the one from the pandemic.

According to a recent analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, around 10% of renters over 65 are behind on their rent. This means that some 800,000 older people are at risk of having to leave their homes when the national moratorium on evictions expires on June 30.

Congress has allocated $ 45 billion in rent assistance to help struggling tenant and landlord leagues, and some of the organizations that distribute the aid have prioritized seniors. Yet the money has been painfully slow to reach people.

Carol Cleland and her dog Cabot.

Source: Andrew Cleland

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the 33 state and local housing assistance programs with readily available public expenditure data distributed on average less than a fifth of their funding, even though the relief was enacted there. six months ago.

Advocates are calling on the Biden administration to extend the eviction ban, which has been challenged in court and criticized by landlords, until more of this aid reaches people. The New York Times reported this week that the White House is considering doing so for an additional month.

But it may be too late for the Clelands.

Her rental assistance application is still pending in North Carolina and her lease term expires on July 1. This leaves her less than 10 days to settle her $ 2,700 in arrears or her landlord will not renew the couple’s lease.

Before Covid, a juggling act

Like many older Americans, Cleland came right before Covid. “It was an act of juggling before the pandemic because the rent kept going up every year,” he said.

Their rent is now around $ 780 per month, whereas it was previously closer to $ 650. This is a big increase for people living on a fixed income. Cleland’s monthly Social Security check is $ 964 and Carol’s is $ 751.

In order to pay their rent and other bills, they both had to work part-time. He worked as a handyman, walked dogs and looked after an older neighbor with health problems. Carol was babysitting.

“I’m 75, but I can do 100 push-ups a day,” he said. “And my wife is fitter than me.”

But these job opportunities disappeared in March 2020.

The Clelands lounge

Source: Andrew Cleland

Cleland had no retirement savings to turn to. Like more than 1 retired married couple in 5, they now receive all or almost all of their income from Social Security.

Medical bills tore apart any nest egg he had built. His ex-wife, Sandra, had cancer of the uterus and cervix for six years. She recovered, but a few years later died of a brain aneurysm at age 52.

One day in 1997, Carol walked into a South Florida car dealership where Cleland was an assistant manager. He was closing the shop. “I would have inadvertently locked her up if I hadn’t seen her,” he said. The next day she came back and he sold her a champagne-colored Honda. Two years later, they were married.

“She was gorgeous,” Cleland said.

Carol was also hit with expensive medical bills, including for several eye surgeries. And Cleland spent thousands of dollars on dental care for himself.

“A lot has happened on the way to retirement age,” he said. “Maybe I could have planned better, but it’s hard to plan for serious family illnesses.”

After the pandemic struck and they lost their part-time jobs, the Clelands discovered they had not earned enough to qualify for unemployment benefits. Still, they received several rounds of stimulus checks, and they cut all the spending they could, buying more potatoes and rice from the supermarket, and less pork and beef. “I have lost 25 pounds since Covid started,” he said.

He signed up for payment plans with his cell phone and electric company. They were able to get financial help from their children.

But now that federal assistance has stopped and their children can no longer afford to send them money, they are about three months behind on their rent.

He has applied for more than 40 jobs, including at Walmart, Loews and Home Depot, but has yet to receive a response. He can’t help but worry that his age is the problem. “If they have 500 applications for the same job and you’re around 70, you’ll be down,” Cleland said.

If they are forced to leave their apartment in July, he has made arrangements to move to live with his daughter in Maine. Carol’s son in Florida said she could stay with him for a while.

Being separated from Carol, he said, will be the most painful consequence of the eviction.

He doesn’t know when he will be able to see her again. Traveling will be expensive. And it will take time for them to save enough money to remake a new apartment.

“I don’t think we’ve had a lot of days apart in 20 years,” Cleland said. “We are each other’s best friends.”


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