FLORIDA — As millions of people across the country struggle to keep up with rent payments during the coronavirus pandemic, a new report finds almost 13 million renters have borrowed money from family or friends to stay afloat. Another 17 million people are dipping into their savings or selling off assets like cars to pay rent, according to the report, published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in partnership with The University of Arizona’s Innovation for Justice program

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Leah Russell is just one example of this struggle right here in Central Florida. She’s fighting to keep her 1970s-era trailer in a Cape Canaveral mobile home park. Although she owns the mobile home, Russell still has to pay a monthly lot rent for the land her trailer sits on — rent that’s gone up by as much as 57% in the last two years, according to documents provided by park residents.

Russell has spent her career working in the service industry. For 27 years she said she’s worked as a server, bartender, and most recently a housekeeper, cleaning rooms at resorts and Airbnbs. That is, up until March, when Russell lost all her work due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“This [area] is tourism at its finest,” said Russell, who lives in a federally-subsidized mobile home community in Cape Canaveral for people ages 55 and older. “I mean, we rely on it. There’s so many people here that rely on the restaurants and service industry and hospitality.”

But all those industries have taken a giant financial hit from the pandemic, and Central Florida’s historically strong tourism economy is predicted to make a slow comeback. That means Russell and many other Central Floridians are now majorly struggling to make ends meet.

Russell is currently behind on the rent by three months, including December, and if she doesn’t come up with the money soon, she risks being evicted. She said she’s missing $1,800 in federal unemployment checks — an issue she hasn’t been able to resolve with Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).

Russell said during the pandemic she’s had to sell her Volkswagen GTI and borrow money from friends to try and stay afloat.

“I don’t even know that many people, so for me to have to borrow money is very rare,” Russell said. “I don’t like asking for money. I’m very self-sufficient and I’ve always been a workaholic.”

Russell said she was able to scrounge together the $1,000 she was told she currently owes. But now property manager Bill Skinner is telling her she owes more for late payments, she said. 

For his part, Skinner said he has worked with park residents who were affected by COVID-19.

“The people that I knew were affected, that it affected their work, we let slide. And they caught up,” Skinner said. 

Russell said she finally just found a new job at a local restaurant, which she hasn’t started yet. The business is brand-new, so she’s not sure how lucrative the work will be right off the bat.

In a “state of depression,” Russell said, she just wants to save her home.

“This home means everything to me,” she said. “It gave me security. I never had any security. So for that to be taken away — that’s a lot.”

Molly Duerig is a Report for America corps member who is covering Affordable Housing for Spectrum News 13. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.