‘Pulled all the way back to the bottom’: A Summit County immigrant strives for stability after facing the threat of eviction
More Spanish speakers face eviction compared to English-speaking residents, county survey results show
This is the second part of a four-story series exploring housing disparities in Summit County. Read the full series here.
In August 2020, Patricia Geltman was beginning to breathe easier.
After weeks of searching for a long-term lease in Summit County, hopping from short-term rental to short-term rental, Geltman finally secured an apartment for herself and her two daughters. It was the first time she felt stable following more than a year of turmoil after moving from her home country of Cuba in 2019.
But in August 2022, Geltman faced an eviction.
She had told her landlord she was planning to renew her lease for another year, but when Geltman turned to a county nonprofit for rental assistance, she said her landlord declined to renew her lease. On the last day of her lease, she found an eviction warning at her door.
“I’m doing well — I’m actually starting to be happy. But when that happened, it really damaged me,” Geltman said. “Losing a home was a thing that could kill me … they pulled me all the way back to the bottom.”
Summit County’s Spanish-speaking population faces more evictions than English-speaking residents, according to the findings of a recent housing study. A survey of 2,284 residents found that 23% of Spanish-speaking respondents reported moving because of an eviction in the past five years compared to 5% of English speakers.
Overall, 49% of Spanish speakers reported moving in the past five years when they didn’t want to compared to 19% of English-speaking residents. More than 1,800 responses were written in English, and more than 470 were written in Spanish.
Community leaders said being at a higher risk for eviction also means a higher risk for homelessness. Miriam Garcia of Mountain Dreamers, a nonprofit that serves county immigrants, said landlords should take that into consideration when deciding to evict a tenant.
“When they have babies, or they have children, I think that they need to be more human and give them enough time to move out. Not just say ‘go,'” she said.
For families, “everything is more complicated,” Garcia added, especially for women.
‘I was never ready for that challenge’
Since 2014, Geltman had been visiting the United States, where she had lawful permanent residency and work authorization under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act.
In September 2019, at the age of 29, Geltman moved with her two daughters to Texas to live with her husband. The pair met in 2014 while Geltman was vacationing in Texas and kept up a long-distance relationship.
But within six months of her move, Geltman and her husband divorced. Not long after, the COVID-19 pandemic began, preventing her from returning to Cuba.
Geltman said she was scared. Alone with her two daughters, ages 8 and 9 at the time, she didn’t know what to do next.
“I never wanted to be a single mom in America,” Geltman said. “I was never ready for that challenge.”
Seeking to build a new life away from home, Geltman said she needed to start a career.
“I found a skill I had, cooking, and said, ‘Let’s get certified.'”
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Geltman enrolled in a culinary program at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge and in June 2020 drove northwest with her two daughters to Colorado. For the first month and a half after arriving, they lived in four different Airbnb homes while Geltman searched for a long-term lease.
Geltman paid between $95 and $120 daily for each rental unit. The longest she could stay was about two weeks. If Geltman tried to secure days beyond that for the unit she was in, it was often already booked.
The county has seen a proliferation of short-term rentals over the past decade. In late 2014, 635 homes were listed as a short-term rental, according to the county housing study. Today, there are more than 10,000 short-term rentals, accounting for roughly one-third of the county’s housing supply.
To afford her stays, Geltman got a front desk job for a vacation rental company that paid about $16 per hour. It was enough to cover her housing but not much else. She relied on payments from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program as well as food pantries.
“During that time, feeding my kids was difficult,” Geltman said. “If we run out of (SNAP benefits), me and the girls call it ‘getting creative.'”
In these moments, Geltman put her cooking skills to the test. She used raw ingredients to make food from scratch, such as flour for bread and pasta, much cheaper than buying it from a grocery store. She relied on a patchwork of bus routes to make it to work and classes each day. Every time she and her daughters moved to a new Airbnb, Geltman reworked her routes.
During that month and a half, Geltman said she applied to four different apartments. Some applications cost as much as $90, money that Geltman said was hard to spare. Each apartment denied her.
But money, though tight, wasn’t the main issue, Geltman said. While she could afford the apartments she applied to, she did not have a credit history.
Brianne Snow, executive director for the nonprofit Family and Intercultural Resource Center, said a lack of credit history is a common barrier for immigrants seeking housing.
“We have to understand that, culturally, a lot of these families can’t carry debt and put things that they can’t pay for on a credit card to create this illusion of good credit,” Snow said. “I think it’s important to educate the community and say, ‘just because somebody doesn’t have credit, are there other ways we could look at their sustainability as a renter?'”
In Geltman’s case, it took an advocate for her to secure her own housing. After turning to a church in Breckenridge for help, a pastor spoke with the landlord for a two-bedroom home. Geltman said it was enough to get her approved.
She moved into her new home on Aug. 1, 2020.
“I couldn’t have had it if somebody hadn’t spoken for me,” she said.
‘I shouldn’t feel shame in finding help’
As her housing became more stable, so did Geltman’s finances. She was working a paid internship through Colorado Mountain College, honing her skills at a Breckenridge restaurant. On weekends she babysat.
When she renewed her lease in the summer of 2021, Geltman said it was a smooth process. In January 2022, Geltman told her property management company that she intended to renew again that year. She heard nothing until June 23, just over a month from when her lease was set to end on July 30.
She said she was told the landlord would be raising rent from $1,950 to $2,300 and wanted to run a credit score.
Unable to meet the rent increase with her current income, Geltman turned to the resource center for help. Among its various programs, the nonprofit provides rent assistance for low-income families by making direct payments to landlords.
Since January of this year, it has seen more than 280 households apply for the assistance, 68% of which were Spanish-speaking, according to Snow.
While other services like the nonprofit’s food market tend to see a 50-50 split between English and Spanish families, “the discrepancy is really large when it comes to housing in terms of Spanish speakers needing assistance,” Snow said. “… It is a true problem for that population.”
Geltman said the resource center was willing to pay $3,900 to cover her first month and last month of rent.
That, she said, would have been enough to allow her to adjust her budget, offset the rent increase and allow her to afford to stay. But when Geltman explained this to her management company, she said it caused concern from her landlord, who ultimately declined to renew her lease.
Geltman said relying on financial aid can create a stigma around renters and feels it may have been a reason why her landlord did not renew her lease.
“I shouldn’t feel shame in finding help,” she said.
Snow, the resource center director, said her organization works with “a lot of great landlords” in the county who are open to receiving these payments on behalf of their tenants. But, on occasion, she said “we do have a landlord that doesn’t want to work with us and perhaps that stigma could be the reason.”
Landlords may also want to avoid having to work with a third party, like the resource center, when it comes to rent payments, opting instead to rent to someone who appears more financially independent.
“There’s such a housing shortage that if you have several people that want the same house and one person can write a check out for six months in advance and another has to rely on a community organization, sometimes landlords go with the path of least resistance for themselves,” Snow said.
So Geltmam once again found herself scrolling Airbnb, desperately looking for a new place to stay. She began packing her and her daughters’ belongings with what limited time she had before her lease ended.
On July 30, the last day of Geltman’s lease, she said she found a notice at her door warning that she would be evicted if she did not leave. She said she had told the management company that she needed more time to secure new lodging and would need to stay at the apartment a few days past her lease while she figured it out.
But it didn’t seem to matter, Geltman said.
She didn’t know where to go. For about a week, Geltman said she slept with her daughters at a bus stop in Silverthorne.
‘Sometimes, we just need an advocate’
When the family Geltman was babysitting for heard about her situation, they allowed her and her daughters to temporarily move into a vacation home they owned, she said.
Geltman lived there from Aug. 15 to Nov. 1, 2022, and “started applying everywhere all over again.”
But this time she faced a new barrier: her eviction notice. While Geltman left before her landlord could ramp up enforcement, which can include being taken to court and having the local sheriff’s office lock a tenant of a home, the eviction filing still appeared on her record during routine background checks.
Despite Geltman leaving at the beginning of August, court records show her eviction case was not closed until Dec. 21, 2022.
While evictions can be issued for a number of reasons, Snow said rent increases and lagging wages can put county residents at a greater risk of falling behind on rent, and that can be exacerbated by unforeseen expenses, such as a medical emergency or car issue.
“We all have really hard times in our lives where things don’t work out like we wish they would,” Snow said. “For some of these immigrant families though, you can’t recover from it.”
Snow said it’s understandable why landlords may make assumptions based on an eviction history. But, “to never be given another chance to have housing is, in my mind, a tragedy,” she said.
For Geltman, it took another person advocating for her to overcome that barrier.
In November, the owner of another Breckenridge restaurant, where Geltman had just begun working a new job, began helping her find a new lease. In February of this year, Geltman found stability again.
The restaurant owner helped her find a studio apartment in Blue River where she currently lives. Geltman said she is paying $1,100 each month for rent. She feels more secure than before because her landlord and boss have a good relationship, Geltman said.
Now, Geltman said she is able to focus on furthering her career and opportunities for her family. She plans to live in Blue River as long as possible and use the coming years to build her credit history. She also intends to graduate with a certificate in culinary arts next May.
But she said couldn’t have overcome her situation alone, she said.
“We have a digital image, your credit, your referrals … an immigrant does not have a digital image,” Geltman said. “Sometimes, we just need an advocate, not the money.”