Norma Diaz doesn’t know where she and her 10 kids are going to live come Saturday at 11 a.m.
Since a fire burned their home and all their possessions Diaz, her children, her two brothers and her mother have been sharing two small hotel rooms near Midway airport. The family has not been able to find permanent housing, something advocates say has been made more difficult by a tightening real estate market and a drain on public emergency funds due to the pandemic.
Now, the emergency money for the hotel rooms is running dry and Diaz and her family have to check out by Saturday morning. They are running out of options.
“[My children are] scared. They’re emotionally thinking, ‘Where are we going? What is the next step?’ And I tell them, ‘leave that up to me, and then leave it up to God,’” Diaz said.
A GoFundMe page Diaz, 36, set up on Wednesday with the help of the Little Village organization Enlace had earned $50 as of Thursday afternoon.
The fire started in the afternoon of Thursday, June 16, spreading from a garage to the two-unit apartment building near 23rd Street and Homan where the 14 members of the Diaz family were living. No one was hurt in the blaze, but Diaz said the apartment has been rendered unlivable, and her family lost almost all of their possessions in the fire.
“We couldn’t take anything out of there. Everything was damaged,” Diaz said. “We lost furniture. We lost clothes. We lost everything. Unfortunately, we were not ready for that.”
Diaz is a single mother currently out of work. In the parking lot of the two-story, pastel pink motel, with her youngest daughters buzzing around her, Diaz let out a melancholy laugh while describing the challenge of packing 14 family members into two small rooms. They’ve divided up the space, with eight people in one room, six in another, and only four beds to share.
Diaz’s 9-year-old daughter, Gracie, hiding shyly behind her mom’s arm, did say she was having fun being packed together with her whole family and watching Tik Tok videos on a phone.
“They like to be together,” Diaz remarked with a smile.
The motel is being paid for with money from the Red Cross, but those emergency funds have run out.
Cecilia Mannion, an employee with the nonprofit community organization Enlace Chicago is working to help the family get back on their feet and find a new place to live. She said the Red Cross had been very helpful after the fire, even kicking in more money to extend the family’s motel stay, but now she wasn’t having any luck getting help for a more permanent living situation.
“Right now, we do not have any emergency funds at any organization from what I’m looking at, or from what I’m getting right now,” Mannion said after a day of pleading phone calls to her connections in the community.
She said it’s been much harder this year to find organizations with money available to help families like the Diaz clan, because so many resources have been used up by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
On top of that, Chicago’s rental market is much more challenging than it has been in years past, Mannion said.
According to Zumper, a national real estate company, Chicago rental prices are way up this year compared to last year. The median one bedroom apartment is 25% more expensive right now than it was in June 2021, according to Zumper.
The jump in rental prices in Chicago is part of a national trend. The Washington Post reports that rents nationally rose a record 11.3% last year.
Dennis Shea, executive director of the J. Ronald Terwilliger Center for Housing Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center told the Post that “a supply-demand mismatch is making rents unaffordable.”
“The lowest-income families are being hardest hit by rising rents and a lack of supply,” Shea said, according to the Post report.
For desperate families in Chicago, the increased competition for rental units has made even applying for apartments fraught. Mannion said one apartment complex she was looking at for the Diaz family was requiring a $50 credit check for every person over 18 who would be living in the apartment. That would require Diaz to front $300 just to apply.
Diaz said that kind of application cost, on top of the necessary security deposit, is just not possible. She said her savings have been depleted.