BOISE — The restaurant where Dylan Eller worked closed indefinitely last week.
His back-up plan, a construction site clean up job, became uncertain after Gov. Brad Little issued a statewide stay-at-home order Wednesday.
He said he still has a side gig editing audio, which he can do at home to bring in a little income. And he will be eligible for unemployment benefits, but because the majority of his income comes from tips, he doesn’t expect enough to live on.
As April 1 approaches, he isn’t sure how he will pay his rent or bills.
Eller was one of tens of thousands of restaurant workers nationwide and in Idaho hit particularly hard by efforts to create social distance and slow the novel coronavirus. The restaurant followed the lead of many other businesses in the Treasure Valley by closing indefinitely. The move was followed by an order issued Monday by Boise Mayor Lauren McLean requiring 6 feet of distance between people.
“It’s a thing everyone jokes about, but if it’s between you eating and paying rent, you pay rent,” he said.
‘WE NEED EVERYONE HOUSED’
Eller asked if his landlord, who owns dozens of properties in Boise, would be making any special arrangements on rent. Eller was told “grocery stores, restaurant food delivery and Amazon seem to be needing people right now” and that rent should be paid in full, according to text messages provided to the Idaho Press. If Eller couldn’t make rent, he also had the choice to terminate his lease early.
“I don’t know what I was necessarily expecting, but I was hoping for some just acknowledgement that this is not just a typical month,” Eller said.
Eller and his roommate worked at the same restaurant, so both are out of work.
Faced with this dilemma, Eller and many others are unsure how they will make rent payments due April 1. Elected officials for the city of Boise and Ada County publicly called on Little to put a moratorium on evictions; he has not yet moved on the issue as of Friday.
McLean said at Tuesday’s city council meeting that she is not ready to “invoke police powers” to halt evictions in Boise. She continued to press Little on the issue Wednesday during a biweekly meeting with the media.
“It is my hope that there is recognition on the state level that we must protect our residents,” she said. “We want people to stay at home, which means they need homes. I am truly hopeful that stopping evictions and talking to banks about the foreclosure process will do the most for the vulnerable in our community, because we need everyone housed.”
‘CAN’T FIND ANYWHERE TO GO’
Finding a place to live is not an easy feat in Boise’s tight rental market, but it is especially tough during a pandemic.
Ashley Luna, another Boise resident, is not out of work due to the novel coronavirus. But after her landlord gave her a 30-day notice at the beginning of the month, she has been unable to find a new place to live. Apartment showings have been canceled due to social distancing.
“A couple of the leasing offices for some of the rental companies are completely closed so you can’t even try to get in,” Luna said. “We just can’t find anywhere to go. We had to get a storage unit and we’re moving all of our stuff in there right now.”
Several nonprofits are working toward providing assistance to those in need, including Intermountain Fair Housing Council.
Zoe Ann Olson, the organization’s executive director, said her group is working with people across the Treasure Valley so people in need can stay in their homes during this public health crisis.
“We have contacted landlords, and they are willing to forgo rent and or evictions for April. It is important to contact landlords directly,” Olson said in an email. “Please, contact Intermountain Fair Housing Council if you need assistance at 1-208-383-0695 or firstname.lastname@example.org.”
‘THEY’VE GOT NO BACK UP’
Residential tenants are not the only ones at risk of eviction in April.
Diane Fiscus, the owner of Smooth Solutions Spa on the Boise Bench, said if she cannot reopen in 30 days she is likely to close her business for good.
She rents a 300-square-foot space on Latah Street, where Fiscus owns and operates her business. When she contacted her landlord asking to see if a percentage of her rent would be taken off because of the social distancing orders in place, she was told rent was expected in full.
Fiscus said she can make April’s rent from the revenue she made off of her other clients, but she’s not sure if she can stretch into May. When McLean’s social distancing order came out, Fiscus was able to reschedule all of her clients to the end of April. However, if orders requiring her business to be closed stretch on past that, she will not be able to continue.
She admitted loans are available for her to help cover the difference, but at 61, Fiscus said she is too old to take on thousands in debt to continue her business, and would rather pack it in. Although she understands the need for social distancing, she is concerned about the rest of the beauty and personal care industry that is impacted by COVID-19.
“It’s a business mainly of women,” she said. “It’s mainly women, and if they’re single, solo and they’ve got no backup, and have young kids, I’m afraid for them.”
Jenna Woods, another Boise resident, used to supplement her husband’s disability check with 10 hours of weekly work as a kindergarten assistant at a charter school. Since her school closed last week, she has had her hours severely reduced and is unsure how she will be able to make rent.
However, she said she understands why her elderly landlord needs the rent payments because taxes and other expenses on the property are still due. (Because of the outbreak, the state has extended the deadline for property tax deferral applications to June 15.)
Instead of focusing on the uncertainty, Woods said she is holding on to the emotional ties with her family and the generosity in the community to get through the tough time.
“I feel it’s very important to keep the feelings and emotions of all this grounded, so the children feel safe and loved,” she said. “The other side of the coin of not working is obvious, I’m not getting paid. … I was worried at first, but (my landlord) expressed his other tenants are in the same situation and it was then that my anxiety eased.”
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