NYC tenant owes $20,000 in back rent as millions face possible eviction during pandemic: "Can happen to anybody"

NYC renter behind nearly $20,000 in payments
NYC renter behind nearly $20,000 in payments 05:15

A federal moratorium on evictions runs out at the end of March, potentially forcing people who owe back rent amid the COVID-19 pandemic out of their homes. 

An estimated 10 million renters were behind on payment at the beginning of 2021, owing a combined $57 billion in rent and utilities. 

New York City resident Allilsa Fernandez said the situation has left them hanging on by a thread. 

Fernandez told CBS News' Jericka Duncan they owe nearly $20,000 in rent, and described the last 11 months of the pandemic as "traumatic."

"I've never had an eviction issue. Never had a rent issue," they said of their life before the pandemic.

For about four years, Fernandez has been living with a roommate in a second-story apartment in Queens. Fernandez said it was a tough decision at the beginning of the pandemic to not start a new job as a home health aide, but their asthma and other medical conditions left them no choice.

"It's either I risk myself to die and pay the rent and still die or I stay home safe," Fernandez said.

Fernandez's mother had already been hospitalized after contracting the virus.

"She literally was in critical condition The doctors told me and the nurses told me that she wasn't going to make it on December 25 and we were preparing for her to just pass away," they said. "Thankfully, she pulled through. But it also was eye-opening for me — I made the right decision for myself."

Currently Fernandez is working a part-time job from home, bringing in some $1,200 per month. Their roommate lost her job at the beginning of the pandemic, making their $1,800 monthly rent payments impossible. 

As state and federal moratoriums are expected to expire in the next few months, an estimated 30 to 40 million Americans are at risk of being evicted. Black and Latino people make up approximately 80% of those facing eviction. 

However, the problem is not just with renters — landlords say they are feeling pressure as well.

"My entire goal is to try and keep every one of my tenants in their space until we are all the way through this," said Liz Dunn, who owns six buildings in Seattle. 

Dunn's properties are made up of more than 20 small businesses and nearly 30 apartments.  

"They're all behind in one way or another," she said. 

While she admits it's difficult keeping every tenant in place, Dunn has been accepting lower rent payments and directing them to grants and loans.

Dunn credited her local banks for the ability to afford the financial help for her renters.

"They're affording me the same grace," she explained. "For example, I'm getting help with not having to pay the principal on the loan, just making the interest payments."

For renters who do not have a landlord like Dunn, there may be relief coming soon. The federal government's emergency rental assistance program went into effect in January. $25 billion is being made available to states to help assist qualified households with rent and utilities — but experts say it may not be enough.

For Fernandez, who recently applied for food stamps, the future is uncertain. The Queens resident said they have "never been in a situation like this."

"They literally said, you make $3 more," Fernandez said of their application. "I wasn't poor enough to get assistance, but I didn't have enough to be able to survive."

Fernandez shared a warning for the millions of other Americans on the verge of being kicked out of their own apartments.

"I'm thinking this is going to further create a homeless crisis," Fernandez said. "I want people to know that this can happen to anybody."

Fernandez's landlord is now taking the roommates to housing court. CBS News reached out to the landlord, but he did not respond to requests for comment.