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Maya Brady in her Sacramento apartment with her poodle, Sunny, on Dec. 3, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Maya Brady
Age: 21
City: Sacramento, Sacramento County
Race/Ethnicity: Mixed, Black and Filipino
Occupation: Looking for a job in progressive politics and public affairs

Maya and her girlfriend count themselves lucky to have received rent relief through the federal CARES Act. Now the pressure is on the recent graduate to get hired and stay on top of rent.

Mar. 23, 2021

Exactly what she was looking for

After her $15-per-hour internship ended in late December, it was crunch time.

Brady sent off dozens of applications at communications firms. She sat through interview after interview, knowing the market was deluged by eager college grads like herself.

“It was taking a lot longer than I was hoping,” Brady said. “Because even after you get the job, you have to wait for your first paycheck.”

For two months, Brady stretched unemployment benefits, money borrowed from family and her practiced frugality to cover rent and other expenses. 

But there was an upside, too. After getting $4,000 in federal rent relief in December, she finally felt stable. January and February gave Brady downtime to think about herself, her priorities, what she felt she deserved in a job. She set her mind on finding a fulfilling career, and a workplace where she wouldn’t be one of few people of color, tokenized and unhappy.

In late February, the offer arrived: a job at the same national public affairs firm where she interned in the winter, this time specializing in criminal and racial justice. A starstruck Brady accepted; it was exactly what she was looking for.

“I can feel not just allowed to be here, but welcomed,” said Brady after her first week of work.

For now, she logs on at 6 a.m each morning to keep up with the company’s East Coast schedule. When virtual workers migrate back into physical offices, she’s eager to move to New York City with her girlfriend. 

“I’m excited to see something new,” Maya said.

She’s putting her $1,400 stimulus check into a savings account to help with the costs of plane tickets and New York’s notoriously high rent. As for her $600 Golden State Stimulus from California, maybe she’ll upgrade her home workstation from her kitchen table to an office desk.

Jan. 8. 2021

By late December, Maya Brady and her girlfriend owed Sacramento Property Management Services about $4,000. The company sent regular matter-of-fact texts to remind them that they’re late on rent. Brady imagines the same text arrives to many of her mostly working class neighbors in the apartment complex.

As if 21-year-old Brady needed a reminder. Since August, the couple had paid about 25% of the rent — the minimum necessary to stay housed until February when California’s pandemic eviction protections begin to expire.

With each month, the debt grew and so did the worry, clouding Brady’s thoughts. Then, just before the New Year, the clouds blew away.

In a hopeful prelude to coming rental relief that could soon help hundreds of thousands of Californians evade eviction, the city of Sacramento paid off Brady’s debt to her landlord with federal CARES Act dollars. The good news came just as the U.S. Congress was hammering out the new federal spending deal, which includes $25 billion in rental assistance for local and state governments to distribute to more people like Brady. 

“I’ve had a lot of good luck,” she said.

Maya Brady in her Sacramento apartment she shares with her partner on Dec. 3, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Maya Brady in her Sacramento apartment she shares with her partner on Dec. 3, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

In March, the UC Santa Barbara senior knew something was up when her manager at Staples stopped calling her in for shifts. For the first time in her college career, she was jobless. Brady burned through savings and financial aid for the next few months. In June, ushered by a virtual graduation ceremony that she chose to skip, Brady joined the ranks of the country’s four million new college graduates who the pandemic thrust into a shrinking, unpredictable job market.

“Rough timing,” Brady laughed.

Brady and her girlfriend moved to Sacramento. They clinched a one-bedroom in the heart of the capitol’s midtown — a steal at $1,100, as remote-working techies fleeing the Bay Area have driven up the area’s rental prices — not far from the suburbs of Elk Grove where she had grown up Black, mixed and gay with teachers who “didn’t look like me.” 

Returning home with a degree in sociology and a minor in history, Brady saw her hometown through different eyes. Now, she had names for the invisible systems that pressed on her childhood. The achievement gap. Educational inequity. The things she wants to change.

It seemed to Brady like the pandemic “brings things more to the surface.” Like the way well-to-do Sacramentans spilling out onto outdoor eating spaces under twinkle light can’t so easily ignore the seemingly ever-growing number of people who sleep in nearby alleyways and doorways, whose faces Brady has come to recognize in her neighborhood. Brady counted her lucky stars she had a roof over her head, filed application after application for jobs in political communications, and waited.

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In July, she found work at Pier 1 Imports. But after a COVID outbreak shut down the location and then the manager told employees they needn’t test negative before they came back to work, Brady quit. Risking her life, “really wasn’t worth it for $13.50,” Brady said. She filed more job applications. Her girlfriend began the school year online. California lawmakers passed the new law to hold off eviction. The couple started paying a quarter of the rent.

A stint in September knocking on doors for the Census to make sure her new neighbors got counted felt meaningful and earned Brady the best money she’s ever made — around $25 per hour — but was short lived.

Then, finally, came good news — a potential inflection point. Brady landed a remote internship as a public affairs intern for a prominent national public affairs firm, working on communication campaigns for organized labor and Black voter outreach, among other progressive issues.

“I feel super privileged,” Brady said. “Especially with my past jobs, being out in the open risking myself.”

The internship was temporary, so Brady continued sending job apps. In late October, she filed a particularly cumbersome application, this one for full rent relief from Sacramento’s Housing Authority

Brady feared, though, that California politicians aren’t as stressed about the looming threat of evictions as they should be or as many renters like her can’t help but be.

“It’s not just a political talking point. Every time they take more weeks and months and go on break, it affects us,” Brady said at the time. “Day to day, I’m worried about getting evicted.”

Maya Brady in her Sacramento apartment she shares with her partner on Dec. 3, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Maya Brady in her Sacramento apartment she shares with her partner on Dec. 3, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Then, just days before Christmas and a week before her internship would end, Maya got an email. Sacramento had approved her for $4,000 in rent assistance, wiping away all but $65 of her debt. At first she didn’t believe it. Then huge waves of relief crashed over her.

With a clearer head, a clean slate on rent and a stronger resume, Brady said, she is applying for more jobs and dreaming of a possible upgrade to an apartment with an in-unit washer and dryer.

“(I’m) feeling grateful and optimistic about the new year,” Brady said.

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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Jackie covered income inequity and economic survival for the The California Divide collaboration from 2019 through 2021. She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting in 2021 for a Reuters...