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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Houston families struggle to pay rent

Nina San Miguel is among an unknown number of people who don't qualify for Houston's Rental Assistance Program. She's now scrambling to make September rent.

HOUSTON — We are wrapping up week 24 of the coronavirus national emergency. Just when some thought they’d hit bottom, the pandemic is pushing our neighbors to a breaking point.

“Something has to give. Something has to help. Something has to happen because this is not right,” said Nina San Miguel. “This is not our fault. This is something that is out of our control.”

Some of our neighbors can relate to San Miguel, because rent is due in just a few days on the first of the month.

“Do you have food in the fridge?” asked KHOU 11 reporter Melissa Correa. “Yes, I do. May not be a lot, but I have something in there.”

Through the Zoom video chat app, San Miguel walked KHOU 11 Correa through her rental home. Frozen meals from a food distribution will help feed the family of six. The walls are bare. Almost everything in the northwest Houston home is for sale, including the sofa.

I’m trying to have a garage sale right now to make extra money,” San Miguel said. “I have been applying for jobs and so has he.”

Anything to help chip away at her mounting debt. She hasn’t be able to pay her City of Houston water bill. She owes $895.

“That’s how much I’m behind,” said San Miguel as she showed Correa her water bill. “That’s just one bill. We had our rent paid until May of this year. And then after that, when my husband got laid off, we couldn’t afford to pay the rest of the months because of COVID. I’ve tried to look everywhere for rental assistance.”

Baker Ripley is handling the City of Houston’s Rental Assistance Program. Houston requires landlord participation, which then keeps anyone on the property from being evicted.

The San Miguels' rental home is managed by a local real estate firm which handles the rental on behalf of the property owner.

That firm says the property owner doesn’t want to apply to Houston’s Rental Assistance Program because he doesn’t want to give the city his banking information and he wants to keep his right to evict.

The real estate firm says it filed an eviction against the San Miguel’s on Aug. 7.

“I’ve tried everywhere,” said San Miguel of calling various programs. She even reached out to KHOU 11 on Nextdoor, hoping for help. San Miguel said she connected with Wesley Community Center which might help cover the back rent.

“Living in the streets. That’s my worst fear," she said.

With a few days before the first of the month, she’s focusing on the positive.

“My kids. My babies. My babies. My husband. The rest of my family. God,” San Miguel said. “That gives me hope. That keeps me going. Because what else is going to keep me going?”

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