New York Times Neediest Cases

The Pandemic Brought Loss. Now They’re Behind on Rent


Maricruz Criollo with her family in Jackson Heights, Queens.Credit // Sara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times

By Emily Palmer, The New York Times 

In March, Ms. Criollo, a 48-year-old widow who supports three children at home as well as family in Ecuador, lost both of her cleaning jobs as the city shuttered. One employer, she said, delayed sending her last five weeks of pay — $2,400 she did not see until April.

Also in March, her landlord sent her a new lease agreement, increasing her rent to $1,475.67 — up almost $22 a month. Without work or any public assistance, she quickly depleted her savings.

“Exactly in March when the pandemic started, that’s basically when I started to get desperate,” Ms. Criollo said in Spanish.

She scavenged food pantries — leaving at 5 a.m. to retrieve a numbered ticket for groceries, standing in long lines and returning home late in the day, sometimes “with empty hands — without anything,” she recalled.

By June, she had fallen $1,600 behind in rent. She turned to Bigs & Littles NYC Mentoring, which has helped her family and is an agency of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, another organization benefiting from The Fund. The agency put $1,000 toward back rent and provided a $500 gift card, both from The Fund, for utilities and other household expenses.

Ms. Criollo has returned to work as a maid at a hotel on the Upper West Side, though the 40-hour week is less than the 60 hours she had clocked between both jobs.

In addition, the hotel is among those lodging some 9,000 homeless people to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in shelters. Navigating the needs of those struggling most during the pandemic, she said, is challenging. She also receives fewer tips.

Ms. Criollo has fallen further behind on rent, owing $3,861.44, according to her billing statement.

Months of negotiations with her landlord over the rent increase ended unsuccessfully last month, with the company citing her arrears, she said. Representatives from the building operator did not respond to calls and emails.

Meanwhile, Ms. Quezada’s family has slipped two more months behind on rent and owes $642 for gas and electricity.

New York’s eviction moratorium expires at the end of the year. And researchers warn that across the country, tens of millions of people may be at risk of eviction.

In August, after completing a job training program through Commonpoint Queens, Ms. Carrion began working part-time as a receptionist. Although she can now contribute to household expenses, she and her mother hold the equivalent of a single minimum-wage job. They support their household of four with help from Medicaid and $530 monthly in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

“I’m just going to give it all I’ve got,” Ms. Carrion said, “and see where that leads me.”