As rent and tuition costs rise, it seems even harder to make ends meet. Unfortunately, the “paycheck-to-paycheck” life is quite common in the Bay Area, especially for families with low-paying jobs. This is the experience of my family. While government support is offered to these families, I was shocked to learn that a USF scholarship I received prevented my family from qualifying for low income housing, keeping us in temporary housing and without a place to call home.
In 2009, my dad suffered the consequences of the housing crisis and we lost a home that he had hoped would be ours forever. Since then, we have moved a total of seven times. My family has grown used to constant instability, not having the luxury of ending our days in a place we can truly call home.
As the years went on it has increasingly gotten worse, forcing my family to live separately for the past two years. In February of 2017, we felt a huge sense of hope when we found the opportunity to apply for a two bedroom apartment in an affordable housing complex in Santa Clara County. There was one catch — our income needed to qualify in order for our rent to be subsidized. I thought to myself, “Perfect! Let’s confirm our income and move in.”
After three weeks, we had an interview as a family and the future of stable housing seemed promising. Fast forward four weeks and many forms and phone calls later, I called the manager of the affordable housing complex and asked her what the status was.
“It looks like we can’t accept your application,” she told me. The reason? I received too much scholarship money.
I asked if she took a look at how much my tuition costs in relation to the amount of scholarship I received, and she explicitly said, “We don’t look at that, we only look at how much help you receive”.
This was the only woman who had the power to house my family and finally provide a stable home. I was assured she would call me within the next ten minutes. Before those ten minutes were over, I was emailed a denial notice.
In the notice, it stated the reason we were denied was not due to how much money we earned, but because I received too much need-based scholarship money. Instead of looking at the cost of my tuition, the scholarship money was put into the same category as my annual income. If my “scholarship income” was compared with the amount of tuition I pay, my family would currently have a place to call home.
While indebted with student loans and commuting an hour and a half to avoid San Francisco’s expensive rent, why is my family still struggling if social support services tells us our income is too high?
This situation is something that many people in poverty experience. It seems as though the standards for receiving help are not realistic in comparison to the need people live with. And like my own situation, many social assistance programs fail to take all aspects into consideration when making the decision to help. In Santa Clara county, my family earns below 60 percent Area Median Income (AMI), a statistic that should not be inflicted based on need-based scholarships.
While my reaction is to attempt to call someone who has the power to understand and help, what do you do when the person who can help you refuses to hear you? Many people have no option but to accept and try again.
I was unaware of my social class until I attended a university surrounded by privilege of all kinds. It was then that I compared my opportunities with others and realized the disparities. It is important to humanize the situations which people of poverty live through, rather than othering them. People who are privileged see poverty through an impersonal lens. However, in order to “change the world from here,” it is necessary to give a face to these experiences and realize we are closer to reality than we think.
Photo Courtesy of Jannely Rodriguez