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Scrambling to Keep Up With the Rent

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When the unexpected happened, finances were stretched and parents needed assistance to keep up.

Over a year into the pandemic, Melisia Huggins hit a wall.

While the second wave of the coronavirus was easing in New York City and optimism was rising, Ms. Huggins, a science teacher at Midwood Catholic Academy in Brooklyn, felt like her financial footing was crumbling.

“All of a sudden that pandemic really put a knot in everything,” Ms. Huggins said.

In addition to teaching, Ms. Huggins, 40, was working at an after-school day care job, earning $75 a day. But that income became more sporadic as the program had to adjust operations because of the virus. And the home that she had worked to find for her family was in jeopardy.

For more than four years before moving in, Ms. Huggins, her son and her mother had been staying with family and church acquaintances. 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 applied and was approved 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, fell into rental arrears.

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

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

“It goes to show you 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, which offers a higher salary than her current teaching position, so she can purchase a house, a dream of her son’s.

“That’s why I’m really just working at all of these places to try to really meet that goal,” she said. “Because why shouldn’t he have that?”

Ms. Huggins’s household is just one of the hundreds of thousands in New York City that had fallen behind on rent by the summer.

Alexandra Gil, a mother of two, also received help with rent for her New York City apartment. The need arose as she was caring for her son, who has Down syndrome and who was recovering from a bone-marrow transplant, the latest medical challenge he’d faced in a long line since he was born in 2010.

“As soon as one thing ended, another started,” 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 an infant. Additionally, her husband died in 2010, a loss that was book-ended by Ms. Gil’s own health troubles — a malignant tumor in her stomach, then a diagnosis of thyroid cancer.

The troubles seemed insurmountable. “I didn’t think I could do it,” said Ms. Gil, who was also caring for her older daughter.

Unable to work as she received treatment, Ms. Gil and her children moved into her mother’s one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx. Her mother cared for Ms. Gil and for her daughter, Alexa, while Ms. Gil cared for Pedro.

“I had never needed to ask for help before. I didn’t know anything about receiving aid,” said Ms. Gil, who searched online and found that she and Pedro qualified for disability assistance. Ms. Gil saved those checks to pay for an apartment for the three of them, which they moved to in 2014. She fed her family with help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Ms. Gil was still receiving treatment for her cancer when Pedro fell ill again. From January 2015 to 2017, Pedro was treated for leukemia at the 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 wrenching period.

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

When Ms. Gil fell behind on rent in the summer of 2020, it was Pedro’s case worker who reached out to the YM & YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood, a community service center. Ms. Gil had been caring for Pedro, who had relapsed in 2019 and required multiple rounds of chemotherapy. 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 for three months of Ms. Gil’s rent in October 2020.

Today, Ms. Gil is studying to be a nurse’s assistant and Pedro is back in school. “I want other families to know that help is out there,” Ms. Gil said.

Donations to The Neediest Cases Fund may be made online or with a check.

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