Working but poor, many families are trapped in extended-stay hotels

Michael E. Kanell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Business News

NORCROSS, Ga. -- They came to metro Atlanta with hopes of a new life, renting a house in Duluth and enrolling their two children in school while they looked for jobs -- she in medical administration, he selling cars.

It took longer than they expected to find work.

Long enough that Maria and Tony Fernandez had trouble paying their rent and were evicted. Looking for a stopgap, they checked in to an extended-stay hotel in Norcross, paying $200 a week. They were like many low-wage workers who have had spotty credit or a patch of bad luck, who can't get a decent apartment.

"We thought, well, 90 days and we are out of here," Tony said. "But the job situation didn't get better."

Six years later, they have jobs, their son is working and living on his own, their daughter is a senior in high school and the three of them still live in a motel room. "If you are alone, this is a good place, but if you have a family, there is just no privacy," Maria said.

And now, a national coronavirus crisis has made the situation in extended stay even more precarious. With massive job losses expected, the federal government has moved to prevent -- at least temporarily -- evictions of renters and foreclosures of homeowners who cannot make monthly payments.


Someone living in a motel has no protection.

Maria and Tony are still working. They plan to have an apartment by mid-April as part of Motel to Home, a year-long pilot program aimed at moving 20 families from extended stay to apartments. After that, participants will be responsible for their own rent, but Motel to Home will help pay for -- and guide them through -- the move.

United Way and the city of Norcross are splitting the $50,000 cost of the program, while St. Vincent de Paul of Georgia provides trained volunteers as caseworkers.

"The apartment isn't the goal," said Denise Fisher, an SVdP volunteer and the program's manager. "The goal is stable housing."


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