Evicted And Homeless Due To Pandemic — 'I Literally Had To Sleep In My Car'
Getting evicted during COVID can risk a person's health and doom their ability to find a home. The extension this week of a federal order preventing evictions could save many people from that fate.
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More than 8 million American households are behind on their rent. And a federal order protecting renters from eviction was set to expire tomorrow. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended those protections for three more months through the end of June. Still, thousands of people have already been evicted either before the CDC order went into effect or because landlords used loopholes to get around it. That's left many people struggling to find a place to live. NPR's Chris Arnold has one man's story.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Getting evicted can hurt you in a bunch of different ways. And you don't have to tell that to 57-year-old Gregory Curry in Dothan, Ala.
GREGORY CURRY: I'll be honest with you, I was petrified by this situation - what I had to go through over this last year.
ARNOLD: Curry fell behind on rent after the furniture store where he was a salesman shut down due to COVID. His landlord filed an eviction case against him back over the summer. Curry had nowhere to go. But there was no federal eviction moratorium in place at the time. And the judge ordered him to leave.
CURRY: They told me I had to be out. Now, mind you, I had five rooms of furniture because I had an upstairs-downstairs duplex.
ARNOLD: Curry says he'd never been evicted before. And he really didn't know what to do next. He got a storage unit. And he had a friend with a truck come help him the day that he had to leave. But while they moved a load of stuff to storage, he says the landlord quickly changed the locks and just tossed the rest of his things outside.
CURRY: They had come in there and threw them out on the road. I was devastated. And the neighbors were literally coming by and taking my things.
ARNOLD: Curry's landlord, a company called D. Ream Properties, did not respond to NPR's requests for an interview. Court records show that the landlord added legal fees for the eviction and other charges on top of what he owed in rent. And when the furniture store reopened and Curry started working again...
CURRY: I'm at work. In comes the sheriff. And he says, are you Gregory Curry? And I say, yeah, I am. And he looks at me. And said, well, I got a letter for you. And it was a garnishment.
ARNOLD: That's a wage garnishment. In other words, Curry says his landlord started seizing 25% of his wages. And now with an eviction on his record, he ran into a cold, hard truth of getting evicted. When you look for a new place to live, many landlords check the court records or at least ask if you've ever been evicted. And if they're looking at two people, one with an eviction and the other not, for many, that makes the decision pretty easy. So for more than seven months now, Curry hasn't had a home. That's even though he's had a job. He stayed at long-term stay hotels when he's had enough money to do that.
CURRY: I literally had to sleep in my car simply because of the fact that, you know, what I'm paying here at these extended stay hotels is actually more than what I was paying for rent and utilities. So when you've maxed out all your, you know - what? - couple of credit cards you have, and then you can't even borrow money, you know, because everything is just falling apart all at the same time - I mean, the emotional toll has been more than the actual financial toll.
ARNOLD: Meanwhile, Curry has been driving 30 miles every other day to make sure his mom's OK at a nursing home. And he's still just kind of mystified by everything that's happened. If there's a safety net, Curry seems to have fallen through it.
CURRY: This is outrageous that this is going down in the United States of America.
ARNOLD: Rachelle Greczyn is a legal aid attorney in Alabama where Gregory Curry lives. She says she's seen a lot of people in his situation during the pandemic and before. You get evicted, and nobody will rent you another place.
RACHELLE GRECZYN: It's tough. And even if we have clients where we can get the eviction dismissed or they come to some sort of a settlement agreement, the court records will show that an eviction was filed. So it shows up when future landlords are looking.
ARNOLD: One bill in Congress introduced this month in the House would stop credit bureaus from putting evictions during the pandemic on people's credit reports. Greczyn says, two, when you're stuck unable to find another home, evictions can send people into a downward spiral.
GRECZYN: A lot of times it snowballs. You know, you might have trouble with making your car payment. If you're having to make a weekly motel fee that's, you know, more than your rent, then you might have trouble keeping your car. If you end up losing your car, your job's at risk.
ARNOLD: Gregory Curry feels lucky that he hasn't lost his car and that he hasn't gotten COVID, even though evictions can raise the risk of that. And in just the past few days, his luck has changed in other ways, too. After more than seven months, a family member has helped him find a landlord who will finally rent him a place. And a homeless assistance group is giving him first and last month's rent so he can move in.
CURRY: I'm very relieved right now because this has been quite a road.
ARNOLD: We reached him on his cellphone as he was just starting to move stuff into his new place.
CURRY: I'm just grateful to be able to have recovered from this. You know, I'm a pretty strong guy. But this was a really rough situation.
ARNOLD: Curry was hesitant about sharing his story but decided that he wanted to because he doesn't think that this should be happening to people in a pandemic.
Chris Arnold, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF KUPLA AND J'SAN'S "OUT OF TOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.