Lakia Higbee thinks she got Covid-19 at the Amazon warehouse near Cleveland where she worked as a picker, filling orders for bleach and cat food and anything else customers wanted. She was sent home in November 2020. She was 43 and in decent health, but suddenly she felt she was breathing through a pillow.
Ms. Higbee slowly recovered, but it was “a month of no money,” she told me. She hadn’t worked long enough at Amazon to qualify for paid time off, and her two adult daughters, who live with her, had lost their jobs too. Also in her home were Ms. Higbee’s 16-year-old son and her two granddaughters, 6 and 3, who call her Mom.
Ms. Higbee clocked back in at Amazon in December. Her rent was $950 a month, not bad, she thought, for a four-bedroom house, even if the windows were so thin and drafty that the monthly heating bill could reach $500. During the first months of winter, Ms. Higbee managed to stay current on her rent but often paid late, incurring a $47.50 fee.
Then February arrived, and Ms. Higbee’s life began to unravel. Out of the blue, she started having seizures. She’d convulse while on Zoom with her psychiatrist or while playing with her granddaughters. That month, after learning that a man who had assaulted her had been released from prison, Ms. Higbee began having panic attacks and drifted into a depression. She was her family’s breadwinner, but the seizures and anxiety kept her from returning to work.
When Ms. Higbee missed March’s rent payment, her property management company served her with an eviction notice — her first, she told me. She was terrified but had heard that the government wasn’t allowing evictions like hers to move forward during the pandemic. Ms. Higbee filled out the paperwork, claiming sanctuary.
On Sept. 4, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control issued a national eviction moratorium that lasted for 331 days. During this time, people who fell behind in rent because of financial hardship stemming from the pandemic, and who met conditions that included doing their best to make partial rent payments and obtain government assistance, were shielded from displacement. If the moratorium wasn’t in place, Ms. Higbee, her children and her grandchildren would have probably lost the home they have lived in for the past three years.