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First Person: A Renter Reflects On How Delayed Rental Assistance Shaped Her Life

An applicant, left, is assisted by a volunteer with filling out the paperwork needed at a rental assistance fair. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
An applicant, left, is assisted by a volunteer with filling out the paperwork needed at a rental assistance fair. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

On today’s program, we spoke about the struggles of the emergency rental assistance programs. According to the Treasury Department’s latest data, only 11% of the $46.5 billion in federal aid has been distributed to applicants so far.

Charmayne Hunter-Spencer, a licensed substance abuse counselor from Atascocita, Texas is one of those applicants. She lives in a three bedroom home with two college aged sons. Below, she shares her story:


My father passed away last year, August 28th. And I was terminated in the middle of September. My husband left in October. My father’s birthday was October 18th, and then right after his birthday, I tested positive for COVID.

I depleted my savings, you know, just trying to hold on to the very last income that I had saved from working. And just trying to make sure the rent was paid.


By February, Charmayne was among the millions of other Americans who were behind on their rent. And that same month, she turned to emergency rental assistance programs for help. Charmayne told us when she applied for rental assistance with the county-based Houston-Harris Help, the application process went seamlessly. It hadn’t:


About three months later, and I remember calling Harris Help and I never heard from anyone, as far as the agency was concerned with following up with me.

I couldn’t speak with anyone. That was extremely depressing. Finally, when I did speak with someone, I had to push it a number stating as if I already had been approved for someone to come on the phone. And the young lady answered the line and she took my information and she said, Well, ma’am, I apologize. But your case has not even been worked on.

I had been applying for positions, and I was grieving. So … I don’t know, I was mentally fatigued and emotionally fatigued. But I remember applying at that moment. I was saying to myself, yes, I may have a master’s degree. I may have this, I may have that. But at this point in my life, I’m just ready to work. But the stores were not open at that time.

Wal-Mart had just opened. And my son was working at Wal-Mart so he would help pay with the bills. I would make arrangements. My mother would help. My husband would help, even though we were not together, you know. So that helped as far as the bills. But the rent, no, I couldn’t pay rent. And there were even times where, you know, the lights were cut off or, you know, the water was off.

I applied in February and they awarded me the middle of June, and that was only to cover up till May. So that is why I was trying to contact them and say, Hey, you know, I need the additional funds.

I haven’t found the job. I plan to utilize my tax return and I haven’t received the second stimulus, so I’m going to combine those and hopefully, you know, three months, I’m OK. I have where I’m able to see clients on the side. However, there are extra certificates that are needed, like added intervention, things of that nature, that will help me with upward mobility.

So that’s what I was planning on utilizing my income tax return, for that. But I’m not. I’m going to use it for my rent. Because I don’t want to go back through this. I’d rather do without as far as going back to the agency. And I’m not. I’m not. I’m done. I am done.


In this diary … we hear from:

Charmayne Hunter-Spencer, a licensed substance abuse counselor from Atascocita, Texas.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.