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

Michael E. Kanell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Business News

That means families are stretching each month, so an unexpected expense -- a car, a medical problem -- can spin them into delinquency and eviction.

And once you've lost an apartment, it can be expensive to get another one. Typically, landlords require that prospective tenants pay a security deposit along with a month's rent -- as well as application fees.

Many workers who could afford to pay the monthly rent struggle to come up with the $2,000 to $3,000 needed to start renting again. The Norcross program helps participants by fronting those payments to the landlord.

The program provides weekly sessions with Clearpoint, a not-for-profit agency that offers financial counseling. Each participant also has a St. Vincent case worker to help them, Fisher said.

"It's a whole different experience when you have a case worker who takes you by the hand and says, 'Let's go to Clearpoint and find out how to handle finances,' or who says, 'I'm going to go with you to take a look at apartments.' "

Not all communities have the same perspective.

Snellville, which has only one long-term stay hotel, recently passed a city ordinance that limits how long guests can be at an extended stay: 180 days consecutively is the maximum.

Proponents said the issue was safety, citing a government report that found extended-stay hotels often became hubs for sex trafficking, prostitution and drug violations.

The Gwinnett County Solicitor General recently cited similar concerns about the number of crimes committed at Norcross hotels.

In mid-February, Quwahana Anderson sat on the edge of her bed in a Norcross hotel, where she was paying $280 a week, plus fees for fresh linens. Her two teenagers slept together in the other bed.

She'd been living there since June and, talking about the situation with a reporter, she teared up. "It's hard. My kids get teased at school, other kids calling them homeless."


She had moved from Macon, finding a job as a customer-service rep at a large electronics firm in Alpharetta and figuring she'd stay just a few months, she said. "This is the first time I've been in a situation like this. I never thought of myself as homeless, but that's what it is."

Anderson couldn't put together the money she needed as down payment for an apartment. Plus she has a checkered credit history, and she owes several thousand dollars for courses at a for-profit college.

But she began working with Motel to Home, which offered guidance about personal budgeting, then paid application fees, security deposit and first month's rent -- about $2,500 -- that she needed for a three-bedroom apartment.

A church group helped stock her pantry. Another pledged to bring in furniture. On March 6, she picked up her kids and took them to their new home.

Motel to Home made the payment to the landlord, and she has the apartment for $1,050 a month.

The situation has gotten more complicated for the Fernandez family, readying to move into an apartment with the program's help. With the spread of the coronavirus, the church group stopped delivering furniture, so the family will move in without any. They aren't going to wait.

"It's the perfect place," Maria Fernandez said. "April can't come fast enough."

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