Victor Washington fell behind during the pandemic. He and his landlord, Andrea Sorum, teamed up to keep him at his home.
Source: Andrea Question
At one point in the pandemic, Victor Washington was nearly four months behind his rent.
The problems started shortly after he moved to the one-bedroom apartment in South Minneapolis in October 2020. Out of nowhere, a blood clot formed in his right leg and he needed a procedure. In middle school, where he worked as a steward, he spent all of his paid vacation and sick time healing.
Then, in December, he got Covid. Washington’s breathing became so bad that he ended up in the hospital. He spent eight days there. He missed more work, this time without pay.
Washington had to call his landlady, Andrea Sorum, and tell her that he would not be able to pay his $ 1,500 rent.
“I explained that I signed Covid that I almost died,” said the 41-year-old Washington.
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Got covid. Falling behind when it comes to rent. It’s a common story in the pandemic.
However, what happened next is not.
Sorum did not threaten to evict Washington, their only tenant. Instead, she thought about how they could raise the money to cover his rent.
“He cannot be evicted,” said 38-year-old Sorum. “He’s sick. He wouldn’t be fine.”
First, she remembered the references Washington submitted with his fall rental application, including one from a good friend and one from his pastor. “The conversations were really good and I was very confident,” said Sorum.
She asked him: could any of these people give him some money?
Victor Washington was hospitalized with Covid-19 for eight days.
Photo: Victor Washington
Unfortunately, it turned out that many in Washington’s community were going through their own troubles. “I have several friends and family members who have died from Covid,” he said. Others had been released. “I’ve seen more losses than I ever wanted to see,” he said.
Washington turned to his pastor: “I asked him, can you give me $ 600?”
His pastor said yes, but it wasn’t enough.
By February, Washington owed Sorum more than $ 5,000.
He collected unemployment, but a large part went towards the maintenance of his two teenage daughters. He and his wife divorced last year.
And he didn’t know when he would see his next paycheck.
Three months after being diagnosed with Covid in Washington, many of his symptoms persist. Breathing remains difficult. His heart just happens to be racing. He suffers from fatigue.
“By noon I’m extremely exhausted,” said Washington. “No amount of coffee or energy drinks can help you when dealing with the aftermath of Covid.”
His doctor said he shouldn’t expect to be back to work until April.
Even so, like many landlords during the pandemic, Sorum had its own financial troubles.
Although she was able to forbear the Wells Fargo apartment’s mortgage, the homeowners association fees are in excess of $ 700 a month.
And the single mother, music director in a church and piano teacher, couldn’t work that much with her two young sons who were studying from home. None of them had been in their school for over a year.
Andrea Sorum’s son Wesley is studying remotely.
Source: Andrea Question
When Washington was hospitalized with Covid, Sorum happened to be in the hospital with appendicitis. As a result, she missed more work. She once qualified for grocery stamps. “It was really intense,” she said.
She explained some of her challenges to Washington.
“I haven’t been into a fairy tale yet,” said Sorum. “We were very honest with each other.”
Washington, once a singer in his church, had difficulty speaking at all on some days due to Covid.
Even so, he kept Sorum informed of his rental assistance requests through emails and texts. (Congress has now allocated more than $ 45 billion in aid to retarded renters.)
“There is a lot of misunderstanding with tenants that they are just playing the system,” Washington said.
“I’m using every resource I can to find this bill,” he added. “I understand that at the end of the day she also has bills that she has to pay.”
Washington was finally approved by Hennepin County for $ 3,000 rental support in February, but it still owed Sorum more than $ 2,000. And his debts only grew.
I understand that at the end of the day she also has bills that she has to pay.
But the more she and Washington communicated, the more Sorum said she saw a huge difference between her situation and that of Washington.
“I’m white and there is generational wealth,” she said. “I have access to help when I need it outside of government services.”
“I have to worry about paying my bills and this year I’ve had to be creative and work extra hard, but there is always enough.”
And so she explained to her and Washington’s ties to several family members. Some of them said they would like to help financially.
That made her wonder: would her friends want to contribute too?
This month she made a post on Facebook describing the situation. Sorum said she was inspired to do this by several mutual aid funds established in Minnesota following the police murder of George Floyd. The event sparked widespread outrage after video footage showed a white police officer holding his knee by the 46-year-old African American’s neck as he gasped.
Around 15 friends donated for Washington’s rent arrears. One person gave $ 5 and another gave $ 1,500.
“There is a feeling we have to help each other, and transformative justice also looks like reparation,” said Sorum.
Washington is now paid on its rent through June.
He cannot be driven out. He is sick. He wouldn’t be okay.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has banned most evictions in the public health crisis, many landlords are still displacing their tenants.
Since the CDC ban went into effect, Jim Baker, executive director of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, has counted nearly 50,000 new evictions filed by corporate landlords in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas alone. During the same period, Princeton University’s Eviction Lab identified more than 180,000 evictions in the five states and 19 cities it is tracking.
The lab found that black tenants were exposed to a disproportionate number of these eviction requests. In the areas they surveyed, around 20% of tenants are black, yet almost 35% of eviction requests were directed against black tenants.
“The pandemic has only exacerbated existing inequalities in the clearance,” said Emily Benfer, visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University.
Victor Washington at his South Minneapolis apartment.
Source: Andrea Question
Evicting tenants is a last resort, said Bob Pinnegar, president of the National Apartment Association. However, the last year has marginalized the landlords, he said.
“Over 50% of rental housing providers in the country are mom and pop owners who rely on their few housing units as their only source of income,” he said. “The reserves are running out and in many cases are exhausted.”
But during the pandemic, landlords have many resources at their disposal to avoid getting tenants into trouble, Benfer said, including the $ 45 billion congressional rental support allocated.
“Landlords should consider the grave consequences of filing an eviction at this moment and instead turn to community-based rental support and eviction prevention or rerouting programs that will help collect the rental debt,” she said.
Indeed, Sorum hopes more landlords will follow in their footsteps.
“I have a hard time understanding why these big landlords with lots of property can’t afford to levitate someone for a few months,” she said. “I’m a single mom and I make it work.”
Washington’s feeling of being safe in his home despite his financial troubles enabled him to heal, he said.
“With everything I’ve been through, it feels amazing to know that I have this security,” he said.
Between the public health crisis and the race riot in the United States last year, Sorum said she also thought a lot about healing.
She lived just a few blocks from where George Floyd was killed last year. Three years earlier, she was riding a bike in the neighborhood when she was hit by a car. While she was lying on the sidewalk, a crowd gathered around her.
“People came and pulled me up and asked if I was okay,” said Sorum. “To see George Floyd lying there on the sidewalk and die in the exact same place – no one could pull him up.
“I always had people coming and pulling me up,” she said. “And that’s what everyone deserves. We say ‘black life is important’, but we have to take it further.”
She has just extended Washington’s lease for another year.
The national eviction ban expires this month. How will that affect you? When you’re ready to share your story, please email me at [email protected]