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Aleida Ramirez
Age: 42
City: Concord, Contra Costa County
Race/Ethnicity: Latina
Occupation: Waitress, housekeeper

Aleida lost all her work at the start of the coronavirus shutdown. After using up her entire savings to keep her daughter and nephew sheltered, she missed rent for the first time in her life.

Jan. 21, 2021

In her words

In my case I’ve been fasting: one meal a day, or prolonged fasting. Just to make sure the kids have something to eat. When I break my fasts it’s with chicken broth or soft-boiled eggs. It’s helping me to save in food costs, I’m able to provide for Emily a much better meal. Sometimes I feed her cereal. I used not to like feeding her cereal but now we’ve had to get cereal. To feed her from a box of cereal.

I haven’t paid my car registration because I need to fix my engine light to do the smog check to do the registration. So they gave me a late fee. It went from $182 to $280. So we have to leave the truck like that without a license plate right now.

We’ve received a lot of help since the first article. My mom gave me $500 for Christmas, I used that to pay the bills and for rent.

Someone I’ve never met sent me a $500 check, and someone else deposited $500 directly into my bank account. With it I was able to save a little bit and help others who need it more than I do right now, including a friend who is a single dad without much income and another who had a pandemic-related emergency.

We received so much help. That help wasn’t just for me. All I did was share my story, but it’s also everybody’s story. It’s just empathy you know, we’re all the same.

Now I have money saved for about a month of rent. I want to hold on to it until I figure out what’s going to be next. That’s why I haven’t fixed the engine light. 

Dec. 6, 2020

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, 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 of 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 dollars in a good week, she says,  running deliveries for Instacart, a gig job she can pick up on weekends. That’s 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 spending; 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.”

How are you getting through each month on rent?

We invite you to share your story here.

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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Laurence Du Sault covers inequality and the income gap for The Mercury News as part of CalMatters' California Divide collaboration. She has reported on child welfare and police misconduct at the Investigative...