I am a Seattle renter, a single mother of young adult twins who are sheltering in place with me. They are both autistic and one is multiply disabled. I applied for unemployment in March 2020 but received nothing. Like thousands of others, they ghosted me. Eventually I received an automated phone call stating I’d been placed on a fraud list and to call a number immediately. That number was non working. I was panic stricken and freaked out. All this time I subsisted on EBT, food bank, Pandemic of Love and other charities. Riddled with anxiety, I barely slept. Of course I fell hopelessly behind in my rent. My landlord lives next door and harassed me constantly about it.
I finally had an inspiration to send a registered letter to the Unemployment Office of Appeals, figuring it was separate from the main office and if someone had to sign for it, they would read it. It worked! A kind man called me the day before Thanksgiving and activated my claim. Because I still owe so much back rent and my relationship with my landlord is toxic, I have been trying to move before I am evicted at the end of the moratorium.
I am discovering that landlords are only accepting tenants who are employed and earned 2.5 x the rent and owe no money to their current landlord, as if there was no pandemic. In effect, I and others like me are the new Joads, the pandemic refugees, the unwanted who cannot find refuge because of a disaster beyond our control. Covid-19 is our dust bowl.
It’s well and good that our rental debt can’t be put on our credit reports, but we are still actively discriminated against because of that debt and our lack of employment. I now have the money to move, but it doesn’t matter because no landlord will have me and my sons. My sons and I can end up homeless, all the while being able to afford a new place while paying back my debt over the time frame designated by law.
This structural discrimination needs to be dismantled.