Scrambling to keep up with the rent


When the unexpected happened, finances were stretched and parents needed help keeping it up.

More than a year after the pandemic, Melisia Huggins ran into a wall.

As the second wave of the coronavirus eased in New York City and optimism mounted, Ms. Huggins, a science teacher at the Midwood Catholic Academy in Brooklyn, felt her financial position was crumbling.

“Suddenly that pandemic really messed everything up,” Ms Huggins said.

In addition to teaching, Ms. Huggins, 40, worked at an after-school care job, earning $75 a day. But those revenues became more sporadic as the program had to adjust operations because of the virus. And the house she’d been looking for for her family was in jeopardy.

For more than four years before she moved here, Mrs. Huggins, her son, and her mother had stayed with family and friends at the Church. Ms. Huggins worked to support the three of them, while also juggling her student loan debt and school fees for her son, Ethan, 11.

The tide turned when Ms. Huggins signed up for an affordable apartment through the city’s housing lottery in 2018. They were able to settle in Jamaica, Queens, and pay off some debts.

But when her reliable income changed, Ms. Huggins, 40, started getting rent arrears.

“I was trying to figure out where I was going? Where am I going to get some money?” she said.

Through her property manager, Ms. Huggins was associated with Community Service Society, a beneficiary of The New York Times Neediest Fund. In May, Community Service Society used $2,853, including $500 from The Fund, to pay Ms. Huggins’ three months of missed rent, providing some relief.

“It shows that there are still nice people out there,” Ms Huggins said. “I was able to save my apartment.”

In addition to her jobs at the Academy, Ms. Huggins works 12 hours a week as a customer service representative at a Home Depot on Long Island to pay for gas and internet and to provide Ethan with pocket money.

Her goal is to become a certified teacher for the city, offering a higher salary than her current teaching position, so that she can buy a house, a dream of her son.

“That’s why I basically just work in all these places to try and really get to that goal,” she said. ‘Because why shouldn’t he have that?’

Mrs. Huggins’ household is just one of hundreds of thousands in New York City who were in rent arrears by the summer.

Alexandra Gil, a mother of two, also got help renting her New York City apartment. The need arose when she was caring for her son, who has Down syndrome and was recovering from a bone marrow transplant, the last medical challenge he’d faced since his birth in 2010.

“As soon as one ended, the other began,” said Ms. Gil, 48, of the Bronx.

Ms Gil’s son, Pedro, was born with a heart defect that required him to spend several months in intensive care before undergoing surgery as a baby. In addition, her husband died in 2010, a loss made up of Ms. Gil’s own health problems – a malignant tumor in her stomach and subsequently diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

The problems seemed insurmountable. “I didn’t think I could,” said Mrs. Gil, who also took care of her oldest daughter.

Unable to work because she was undergoing treatment, Mrs. Gil and her children moved into her mother’s one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx. Her mother took care of Mrs. Gil and her daughter, Alexa, while Mrs. Gil took care of Pedro.

“I’ve never had to ask for help. I knew nothing about receiving assistance,” said Ms. Gil, who searched online and found that she and Pedro were eligible for disability assistance. Mrs. Gil kept those checks to pay for an apartment for the three of them, which they moved into in 2014. She fed her family with help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Mrs. Gil was still being treated for her cancer when Pedro became ill again. From January 2015 to 2017, Pedro was treated for leukemia at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. Pedro’s case worker there not only helped Ms. Gil apply for more public assistance, but also supported her emotionally through the difficult period.

“The only thing I had to worry about while in the hospital was Pedro’s health,” said Ms. Gil. “They helped me with everything else.”

When Mrs. Gil ran into rent arrears in the summer of 2020, it was Pedro’s associate who contacted the YM & YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood, a community service center. Ms. Gil had cared for Pedro, who had relapsed in 2019 and required multiple chemotherapy treatments. He received a bone marrow transplant in January 2020.

Using $2,932 in Fund money received from the UJA-Federation of New York, a beneficiary of The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, the Washington Heights Y paid three months’ rent from Ms. Gil in October 2020.

Today Mrs. Gil is studying for a nursing assistant and Pedro is back at school. “I want other families to know that help is out there,” said Ms. Gil.

Donations to The Neediest Cases Fund can be made online or by check.

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