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How to pay the rent? It’s now a worry for three out of four Latino households

Tampa families reflect the findings of new national survey on the devastating impact of the coronavirus.

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TAMPA — Last month, Sandra Alencastre and her husband Carlos Hernando dipped into their savings to pay the $1,200 rent on their three-bedroom, two-bath house in Brandon.

They had never faced such a setback before. Life was good. Alencastre, 54, was a chef assistant at a Latin restaurant two miles from her home, and Hernando, 47, was manager at a MetroPCS store.

But as safer-at home restrictions took hold and the number of customers shrank, they saw their hours cut — Hernando by more than half and Alencastre by 12 hours a week.

Now, the Peruvian-Dominican couple have no money to pay the rent in May.

“It’s a nightmare for many people like us because we depend on our paychecks and personal sacrifices," Alencastre said. "If you don’t have a job, you don’t have a way to survive.”

They arranged a payment deferral with the owner of the house, for a $75 late fee.

“It is a time bomb because nobody wants to be owing money and counting coins in their pocket,” Alencastre said. "It’s painful and you feel bad about yourself. I would like to have a plan B, but there is not. ”

Keeping a roof over their heads is a worry for many of the 33 million people who have joined the jobless rolls during the past seven weeks. But it weighs especially heavy among Latino households, according to a survey by national research firm Latino Decisions and SOMOS, a health network serving Medicaid patients in New York City.

Three out of four among all Latino adults worry about finding money for rent and other basic expenses, according to the study, Covid-19 Crisis: National Latino Survey. Conducted in early April, the poll asked 1,200 people about their outlook on housing, health and education.

Related: Sending money home now a struggle for some Hispanic immigrants as jobs vanish

Separate results were calculated for states with large Latino populations — New York, Texas, New Jersey, California and Florida — but the numbers are similar in each.

Among the findings: 43 percent of Latino adults reported they will have trouble making rent and two-thirds of Latino households reported a major loss of income.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has magnified many problems that have confronted Hispanic families for decades, said Henry Munoz, cofounder of Somos.

“We have to find solutions,” Munoz said. “And one of the most important parts of creating those solutions is to understand where your community is and how they view the intersection of issues that are represented by the coronavirus.”

The poll also showed that most Latino households have less than $500 saved. One-third said they have already lost a significant portion of their savings and retirement.

Luis Miguel Viloria is feeling the loss.

Viloria, 45, and his wife Pamela, 43, opened Tierra Mexicana restaurant almost two years ago on North Himes Avenue in Tampa. The Venezuelan couple used money they had saved since coming to the United States nine years ago through the Diversity Visa Program.

But a promising start, with customers increasing month by month, came to a crashing halt with the pandemic. The Vilorias were reduced to takeout only.

Related: In Brandon, Latino grocers hope sales recover soon from coronavirus downturn

“It was a big change, like a tsunami,” Viloria said. “Everything fell apart in a matter of days and now it feels like you have to start again from zero."

The couple has used credit cards and the last of their savings to pay the $1,700 mortgage on their home in New Tampa and the $2,100 rent on their restaurant.

They don’t know how they’ll keep making payments. Viloria said authorities should have acted quicker but he welcomed the April 2 order by Gov. Ron DeSantis suspending evictions and foreclosures for 45 days.

"If we used to have $900 a day in sales four months ago, now we are making less than $100. So everything is stressful,” Viloria said. “You stop eating and you can’t sleep because every day you lose 90 percent of your monthly income.”

Luis Miguel Viloria is hoping that federal aid will help him keep making payments on his home and his Tampa restaurant.
Luis Miguel Viloria is hoping that federal aid will help him keep making payments on his home and his Tampa restaurant. [ Courtesy of Luis Miguel Viloria ]

He is hoping that he’ll see some cash soon through action taken by Congress to help people impoverished by the coronavirus — his personal stimulus check for $1,200 and aid to small businesses under the CARES Act Payroll Protection Program.

“It is the only life jacket because our growth will be very slow. Every day, there are hundreds of new cases and I don’t know how many more deaths. The pandemic is still here.”

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