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Perspective: Sharryl

May 16, 2023

The outline of a home made with red yard in the middle of a maze with white walls and a gray floor.

Navigating the Bay Area Housing Labyrinth

By Sharryl Carter, UWBA Ambassador

“Sometimes I feel I’m navigating a labyrinth, where every time I think I’m getting close to the center, the maze shifts, exposing new walls and putting me back in survival mode.”

A female presenting individual with a black hat and white and black sweater looking with intent towards the camera.

I am a single parent of a 5-year-old, the sole provider for our household and I have been a Solano County resident for nearly 20 years. But I have only been living on my own for the last four. Prior to that, I was renting a room.

My journey started when my son was a year old. We were chosen to participate in the Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program (TBRA), an initiative that seeks to help residents experiencing or at risk of experiencing, homelessness while they are getting back on their feet. I had two jobs at the time, working full-time with the school district as an eleven-month employee and as a part-time caregiver. This program helped fill the gap so that our rent would not exceed 30% of our household income, and it allowed my son and I to move into our first place.

During this time, I worked with a SparkPoint* credit counselor on a strategy to pay off debt. I was able budget, pay off my car, dispute unjust charges, and boost my credit score. I spruced up my resume, which helped me secure a better-paying job. SparkPoint also assisted me during that twelfth month when I had no income, preventing the domino effect of falling behind on rent or any other bill that is affected due to an imbalance in hours worked.

I was fortunate.

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SparkPoint counselors helped me develop strategies so that I was never late on my rent and after a year’s time, I had the opportunity to receive a Housing Choice Voucher. This meant that my son and I would be able to maintain our own place without depleting too much of our income. I was extremely grateful and stayed in that apartment for an additional year.

After a new property manager was brought in to work at our site, we frequently started receiving 3-day notices to pay or quit. I was confused, worried and afraid. I was many things, but what I was not, was late on my rent. I was not behind. I found out there was a delay in the subsidy portion of our rent and rather than wait to receive the guaranteed funding, management was applying pressure on the tenants to push them out.

I was back in survival mode trying to figure out what to do, whom to talk to, and where the heck I was supposed to go in three days.

“In the span of two months, the rent I am responsible for paying will have increased roughly the amount of our original housing voucher, which feels a little like one step forward, two steps back.”

In addition to the constant pressure tactics to force us to leave, there were plumbing issues so severe I had to live out of my living room at one point due to flooding. There were flies, insects, and all sorts of things during that time. So, I decided when the lease was up, I did not want to continue to live with the uncertainty and the anxiety that came with being in that environment. Thankfully, my son and I found a different place that accepted the voucher and we moved in.

There are issues, but overall, my son and I are pretty comfortable in our current two-bedroom apartment. Right now, our rent is set at a little above two thousand, and the housing voucher accounts for $640 of that, which is very helpful for the time being.

Recently, however, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) changed its policy – because we are a family of two, we should be in a one-bedroom dwelling. That change has increased our portion of the rent by $440 and will take effect right before the month when I do not receive income from my full-time job. On top of that, a month later my lease will renew with an overall rent increase of $200. This means in the span of two months the rent I am responsible for paying will have increased roughly the amount of our original housing voucher, which feels a little like one step forward, two steps back.

Survival again.

The constant stress of never feeling like I can settle in one place, the barriers that keep coming up when the maze shifts, they don’t just create financial hardships – there’s an emotional cost too. In order to deal with making necessary decisions, I often disassociate in a way that hinders my interpersonal relationships and ability to connect with others. It takes a toll.

There is still work to be done, but UWBA is helping me along the way and there is light at the end of the tunnel. My hope is that I can provide a more stable living situation for my son and me.

*When you support United Way Bay Area, you help make sure the people who want to break the cycle of poverty can access the resources necessary to do so. You’re helping programs like SparkPoint, which provides financial coaching, work with people like Sharryl to create effective strategies for long-term economic stability even while navigating sometimes unpredictable systems.