Renting in The Time of COVID

Nicole Rojas
Jul 23, 2020 - 3:00

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Renting or owning a home in the U.S. is no joke in a normal year and the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated that experience. For the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, paying their rent or mortgage has become impossible. For those of us who have been lucky enough to keep our jobs, finding a place to rent has become an impossible task. 

Nearly three years ago, in December 2017, my mom passed away after a long battle with cancer. Eight months later, I packed up my belongings into a storage container just north of Boston, got on a plane and began what would be nearly two years of on-and-off travel around the world.

The coronavirus pandemic pulled my traveling to a screeching halt in March. What was supposed to be an amazing spring and early summer in Europe and northern Africa with my dad and brother quickly became five months and counting in my childhood home on Long Island. 

In May, I made the not-so-difficult decision to permanently move back to Boston. What I didn’t know was how difficult it was going to be to actually find an apartment and roommates to go with it. Boston’s never been an easy place to rent from. Last year, it ranked as the fourth most expensive city in the U.S., behind New York City, San Francisco and Honolulu. 

This year, there was the added trouble of a global pandemic. I spent weeks debating whether I wanted to join an already filled apartment or try my luck finding a new apartment with new like-minded roommates who would be just as COVID-cautious as I am. I decided to try my luck. 

One after the other, roommates fell through. Apartments did too. People lost jobs, others couldn’t commit because their school situations were unclear. Things began to work themselves out. I found an apartment after weeks of virtual tours and a roommate to go with it. 

And then the Trump administration released a devastating policy change that affected thousands of foreign students: those who found themselves at universities and colleges with online-only courses would have to return back to their home countries. The foreign student I planned to room with, a Moroccan business grad student named Yasmine El Adib was forced to back out. 

Yasmine was kind enough to speak to me about the difficulties of having to rent in a new city as the country grapples with the deadly effects of an untamable virus. She moved to Austin, Texas, in 2016 for her undergrad education and plans to move to Boston for graduate school. 

In Austin, Yasmine said she had no issues finding apartments. She worked with realtors who specifically worked with students to find affordable places to live. That hasn’t been her experience in her journey to find housing in Boston. 

“Boston was definitely way more expensive than Austin. It was kind of shocking,” Yasmine said. “I mean, for me, it is definitely more expensive than what I’ve seen here. I mean, I would pay double the price for…like here I have my own room with my own bathroom in a two bedroom, two bathroom, and I’m only paying $700. And over there, it’s double the price for a room in a four bedroom, one bath.” 

Yasmine also told me she worried that people living in Boston might be more strict about COVID precautions than they were in Austin because of their proximity to New York. 

“I’m definitely struggling to understand the housing culture in Boston. Like everybody’s sharing a bathroom, you’re paying for your laundry. You’re paying $200 for your parking spot. It’s so expensive that I don’t understand why it’s so ridiculous.” 

We also talked about what she felt when she learned of the Trump administration’s new policy change and what was going through her head. Yasmine said she was initially scared of the financial implications of having to pay upwards of $40,000 for an online education without getting an in-person experience. 

Thankfully, her school emailed her just days after the announcement was made to say that there would be in-person instruction available. On July 14, following a lawsuit by Harvard and MIT, the Trump administration backed down from the rule change. According to ABC News, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy has reverted back to guidance the agency issued in March, which extends flexibility to international students. 

Yasmine is back on track looking for apartments and roommates in Boston. As for me? I have an apartment and a new roommate and we’re working double time to find a third. Despite the curveballs COVID-19 has thrown my way, I know that I’ve been relatively lucky when it comes to renting during this pandemic and millions of others in the country have had it a thousand times harder. 

Have you tried renting a new apartment or home during the pandemic and are having a hard time? Or have you lost your home because you’ve been sick, fired or laid off? I want to hear your story about renting during COVID for an upcoming piece. Be sure to email me at nicole@thenorthstar.com to tell me all about it.  

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At the end of each story we publish about the coronavirus, we are now sharing the following information:

Coronavirus 411

The novel coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2, is a virus that causes a number of respiratory illnesses, including lung lesions and pneumonia. The virus, which causes COVID-19, spreads easily from person to person through the air when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. 

COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China and has spread to 188 countries. More than 15.29 million people around the world have become infected and more than 6224,000 people have died. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. 

President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency on March 13. Less than two weeks later, on March 26, the United States surpassed China in the number of COVID-19 cases. The U.S. now has 3.99 million confirmed cases and more than 143,000 deaths. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 can take between two to 14 days to appear. The CDC recommends calling your doctor if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include chills, repeated shaking, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.
In order to keep yourself and others safe, be sure to wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid touching your face. The CDC is recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks. Click here for information on how to prepare for a quarantine.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

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