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Patricia Mendoza fights back tears while speaking about the possibility of eviction on Dec. 10, 2020. Photo by Tash Kimmell for CalMatters.

Patricia Mendoza
Age: 45
City: Imperial Beach, San Diego County
Race/Ethnicity: Latina
Occupation: Medical driver

Patricia was already spending 75% of her take home pay on rent before the pandemic. Since losing her job as a medical transport driver, the single mother of two has fallen behind on rent.

Feb. 17, 2021

New landlord, same eviction threats

Patricia Mendoza opened her front door one day last week to find an unmasked stranger on her porch. 

The man, an employee of her landlord, handed her a sheaf of papers and told her she needed to be out of the apartment she shares with her children by Apr. 10. 

The 60-day notice was an unwelcome surprise for Mendoza, 45, who narrowly avoided eviction last year when her former landlord gave up on plans to add a new roof and sold the building. In an Instagram post after the sale, the former landlord referred to the acquisition as a nightmare, and noted she managed to make six figures on the sale. She did not respond to requests for comment. 

The new landlord wants to conduct a full remodel and evict all tenants of the fourplex. One apartment has already been vacated. Though the eviction moratorium protects tenants from eviction for nonpayment, landlords have other options — such as remodeling — by which to compel people to leave. Mendoza’s current landlord did not return messages from CalMatters. 

“Now this nightmare is happening again,” Mendoza said. 

Patricia Mendoza’s apartment door. Photo by Nigel Duara for CalMatters

Mendoza thought she was protected from eviction because of the passage of an eviction moratorium extension in late January. 

Along with the extension, the state announced a distribution plan for $2.6 billion in federal rental relief dollars: Landlords would get 80% of the unpaid back rent incurred between April 2020 and March 2021 if landlords agree to forgive the remaining 20% and agree not to pursue evictions. 

But the arrangement is contingent on landlords agreeing to the deal, and Mendoza’s landlord has said he won’t go for it. In addition, according to Mendoza, he has pledged to pursue the back rent she owes once she’s out of the apartment.

Should landlords not agree to accept the rental relief dollars, the legislation instructs courts to reduce damages owed the landlord, assuming the tenant met the eligibility requirements. 

Now, Mendoza has difficult conversations with her kids about their next steps, beginning with the things they’ll keep and those they’ll leave behind if they’re evicted. 

“My only fear is sheriff’s (deputies) knocking on my door,” Mendoza said. 

Mendoza’s asthma is kicking up. She says it’s brought on by stress. 

Through a coughing fit, she asked her daughter to bring her an inhaler.

Through long drags on her “pump,” she tried to keep talking but couldn’t. Once again, she found herself gasping for air.

Jan. 20, 2021

In her words

Well, I’ve had to make a lot of choices. And one of them is cheaper food.

I make a lot of sopitas, I don’t know if you know the soup, and those are pretty cheap. They’re, like, sometimes 69 cents, and it feeds all three of us, and then we’ll just heat up some tortillas and we’ll eat soup and tortillas.

I mean, there’s a lot of things that I can think of where I’ve had to spend more carefully. But it’s mainly food. Because if I don’t stay up with my gas and electricity or the internet — because both my kids need the internet, then how would they do their work? So it’s just mainly food.

Everything’s more expensive. And sometimes the cheapest food that you can get, you get at Walmart, and sometimes I don’t like going to Walmart because there’s so many people.

We would go to Vons and I would collect the Vons coupons and do all the groceries at Vons. There’s usually somebody standing at the door and checking how many people are in there and how many people could go in. But it’s more expensive.

There’s a grocery outlet here in Imperial Beach, as well. But it’s always packed, always packed. And it’s really small.

And with Walmart, it’s like everybody goes in. It doesn’t matter. There’s no limits, it seemed like. And the last time we were there, my son had a little panic attack. So we won’t be going to Walmart for a while.

That was my son’s first panic attack. And no mother should ever have to deal with a 10-year-old going through what my little boy went through.

Scary times right now.

Dec. 6, 2020

Patricia Mendoza wakes up gasping, fumbling in the dark for her bedside inhaler. She used to suffer asthma attacks perhaps twice a year. During the pandemic, she’s up to seven. 

“It felt like I was drowning, every time” she said. 

Doctors tell her it’s stress, and wildfires. To her, it’s simple mathematics. She earned exactly $2,000 per month before the pandemic. She spent $1,500 of that on rent for the two-bedroom apartment in Imperial Beach she shares with her children, ages 9 and 17. That left $500 for everything else. 

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In March, her employer went out of business and she missed her April and May rent payments. Mendoza, 45, made up her rent with federal stimulus and state unemployment benefits, until those, too, ran out and she missed her rent payments in June, July and August. A new landlord purchased her apartment complex and has filed eviction paperwork — the new owner wants to replace the roof, a type eviction not covered by California’s eviction moratorium, which only prohibits evictions for non-payment of rent. 

Her net worth is less than zero dollars. Her asthma leaves her afraid to take a job in the checkout line of a grocery store or anything else that requires face-to-face contact. 

“If I see somebody without a mask, I just walk away,” she said. “If I don’t come back to my kids, who’s gonna take care of them?” 

Her children ask if they can help with the rent, and she cries. 

And still she wakes up gasping. 

Mendoza enjoyed a middle class life for at least a decade. She and her husband were never far from debt, but they managed. Then, in 2015, they divorced and Mendoza moved with her children into the Imperial Beach apartment where she now lives. 

Credit card bills mounted. Her credit score fell into shambles. She needed a friend to cosign her lease. But even with all of the new hassles of single parenthood and a tumble down the economic ladder, they felt stable. 

“Mom would find a dime on the street, mom would pick it up,” she said, laughing. 

At the outset of the pandemic, she tried to pay all of her bills. She doesn’t like owing people money, and she has held a job since she was 7-years-old selling cartons of eggs out of the back of her father’s truck in National City. 

She looks back on the early days of the pandemic with a mix of frustration and regret. One of the first bills she paid was her utility bill, because her children needed electricity and the Internet for online schooling. She only later learned she could have spent the money on food or rent instead because of a statewide utility shutoff moratorium.

A view of the yard from Patricia Mendoza’s apartment. Photo by Nigel Duara for CalMatters

Behind four months on the rent, Mendoza opened her mail one day in early October to find an eviction notice from her new landlord, along with an explanation.

“I am a single mother,” the landlord wrote, explaining that she needed the rental income herself to avoid foreclosure. 

Other people in her apartment complex are leaving. Mendoza says she can’t. “How am I going to find a deposit and first month’s rent?”

Now, her benefits have slowed to a trickle — her last unemployment deposit was for $48 — and she’s not sure where she’s going to find her next paycheck. 

“This is the worst thing that has happened in my life and in a lot of people’s lives,” she said. 

If all else should fail and she is indeed evicted, Mendoza says she, her children and their chihuahua would live out of the family’s white Econoline van. But she’s hoping the state will take some kind of action before she has to make that choice.

This project is part of California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.

Staying Sheltered

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Nigel Duara joined CalMatters in 2020 as a Los Angeles-based reporter covering poverty and inequality issues for our California Divide collaboration. Previously, he served as a national and climate correspondent...