COVID Didn’t Kill Me


I read with equal parts interest and dismay your article last week concerning a Bay Area landlord’s experiences with tenants’ bad behavior apparently enabled by the eviction moratorium still in place there. People acting in bad faith, as that landlord’s tenants seem to be doing, cannot really be defended, and I don’t wish to try.

As a contrast, however, are my own experiences as a tenant. For 21 years I have been a resident at the same address of Sunset Park. I moved into my apartment during Summer 2002, while the country was still very much reeling from 9/11, and several years before the global financial crisis (and its famous “jobless recovery”). For the first 19 years I was a model tenant: rent paid on time (mostly – though there were as many instances where I paid rent early as I paid late, usually due to work-related travel). But just as important, I was quiet, didn’t cause damage to my unit or the common areas, and was never the subject of complaints by neighbors to either the landlord or police, despite the fact that all of those happened to my various neighbors through the years.

In the midst of my 18th year of tenancy, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic threw the whole world into an unprecedented crisis. I was employed as a college teacher for about a dozen years prior, and the pandemic disrupted higher education just as completely as any other industry. My teaching jobs were cut in half with the shutdown (one college closed completely, as it had no online component to its classes) and I taught my last academic class in December 2020. Despite what the news headlines say, jobs are not “back” in every industry, and college faculty positions are a prime example where jobs are definitely not “back” to pre-COVID levels and will not be for many years. Of course I held other positions prior to being a professor, but there is now a 15 year gap in my work experience that has proven to be a problem for non-academic positions I’ve applied for in recent months. I’ve also made clear to outreach organizations and potential employers alike that I’m perfectly willing to do anything to get back into the workforce, including stocking shelves or any other such position that has openings. But of course I have no experience for that type of work, and I am back to square one.

Yet I will become a member of Santa Monica’s homeless population come August 15. With the end of the eviction moratorium in Los Angeles County, my landlord finally started the eviction process. I don’t blame him, as I am many months behind on my rent, and have no credible expectation that I will be able to resume current monthly rent payments in the near future (to say nothing of past due rent). Of course my likelihood of finding gainful employment will plummet significantly once I am unhoused, and as the date draws near I am by necessity shifting my focus from job hunting to learning what I will need to know how to survive after August 15.

COVID-19 didn’t kill me, but surviving it just might.

Michael Pottenger, Santa Monica