This story was co-published in partnership with The Oaklandside

I came to the Bay Area in 2015. A short time later I met my husband, and in 2019 we moved into an apartment over Logan Street in Oakland. In one bedroom, my husband and I and two children slept together. We paid $1,000 for one bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom. 

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In the first week of June of 2023, the woman who supervises the building told us to come to her office. I went with my husband and there she gave us a letter. She told us we had to leave because we didn’t go to the same church as the other tenants. The reason they wanted to evict us isn’t economic because, even though we don’t make that much money, we pay rent on time. I remember she also said that if we didn’t leave, a truck from the city would come and take our belongings. 

Mirna Arana begins packing kitchen essentials the day before she and her family are due to move out of their home in Patten, Oakland to a house they are leasing with some family in San Leandro, July 31, 2023. Credit: Hiram Alejandro Durán for El Tímpano/CatchLight Local

I said that, as tenants, we have rights, but she told us that if we wanted we could hire a lawyer, that the decision had already been made and we had to assume the consequences. 

I don’t understand English very well, but with the help of Google Translate I read that we had 30 days to leave the apartment. I thought: ‘Where am I going to take my children after July?’ Our financial situation is currently unstable, but it has been getting worse since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

How El Tímpano’s listening powered this story

Mirna Arana, who’s been an El Tímpano subscriber since June of 2021, is one of the most active members of our text-messaging community. Over the years, Mrs. Arana has shared her concerns, daily challenges, and joys as a Bay Area resident. On July 6th, when El Tímpano sent resources and information about renter rights via text message, she responded that she got a letter from her building manager asking her family to vacate the apartment. Our reporters Justo Robles and Hiram Durán reached out to learn more and to follow her process of moving from Oakland to San Leandro.

My husband doesn’t work because he hurt his back. I used to clean houses, at least three in a week, but families started getting sick and canceling appointments, so I didn’t earn as much money. Then I worked at a restaurant that had to close because people weren’t going anymore. During that time, I sent money to my mother who still lives in Santa Rosa, Guatemala, from where I emigrated many years ago. I ran out of my savings. 

Left: Mirna’s children stave off boredom with the toys, and makeshift toys, left unpacked on Monday, July 31, 2023. Aaron uses skewers for drumsticks, tapping on the flaps of open boxes, furniture that’s too big to move and popping the soap bubbles Alan blows in his direction. Right: Aaron sits at his drum kit, which had remained packed for a few days while the Arana family moved to San Leandro, moments after arriving at their new home on Thursday, August 3, 2023. 

Here, my children are growing up, one of them is five years old. One of us must stay with him and my youngest child. If we go to a more expensive apartment we would have to work more hours and it gets complicated. I can’t afford a babysitter. 

I see a lot of people on the street and it’s because the rent is getting more and more expensive. Many of them have nowhere to go. They are left alone. When I came to Oakland I paid $200 for a room, then $500, and now it’s $1,000. 

When I came to Oakland I paid $200 for a room, then $500, and now it’s $1,000. 

Mirna aran

Weeks ago, after we got the letter, we went looking for apartments and found one that was available over Harrison Street. We liked it but the problem was that the rent was $2,000 and had to be paid in advance. And not only that: we had to make a deposit of another $2,000. How are we going to pay for that? 

Mirna Arana’s certifications and a record of her son Alan’s first haircut in the family’s bedroom on July 31, 2023. Below the certificates are push pins where other decorations hung before Mirna packed them ahead of their move to San Leandro. Credit: Hiram Alejandro Durán for El Tímpano/CatchLight Local

Then we went to San Leandro, and there it was $3,800 to rent a house, plus another $3,800 for a deposit. We liked it because it had two rooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen, but we couldn’t afford it on our own. To be able to pay that rent, I would have to clean three houses a day and do it on my own, no longer working for a company. More than 80 houses a month. 

We also had other experiences. We messaged a guy who posted an ad for an available rental on [Facebook] Marketplace. He told us that for now we could only go and see the house from the outside. We went and we liked it, so we asked him to give us the keys to see it inside, but he demanded that we deposit money through Zelle first. We said no, but he demanded and demanded. We felt he wanted to scam us. 

Mirna Arana looks down from the third floor of the apartment building she lives in on July 31, 2023. Arana and her husband, who has been out of work since he injured his leg, can’t carry their belongings down four flights of stairs to their truck in the garage by themselves comfortably. Arana says she’ll have no choice but hope her friends are available to help them if the elevator doesn’t get fixed by August 1. Credit: Hiram Alejandro Durán for El Tímpano/CatchLight Local

In Alameda, we visited an office where they were going to give us information about an apartment. Everything was fine until the woman who oversees applications asked about our social security and credit history. There was an interpreter because she didn’t speak Spanish. She started asking why we didn’t have social security and how we could possibly have a credit history. She said that people who live like us stole identities. 

I was very concerned and stressed because I didn’t have enough time to find a place to live. My husband told me that we better go back to Guatemala, but my children have a promising future here. 

After a few setbacks, Mirna Arana moved out of her Oakland apartment on August 3, 2023. The elevator in their building broke just before the turn of the month prompting their landlords to give the family extra time to gather their belongings. Credit: Hiram Alejandro Durán for El Tímpano/CatchLight Local

I kept waiting for good news. I went to church, like every Sunday, hopeless. But then a friend of mine told me that she was moving to San Leandro and that the owner had a house for rent and that we should go and ask. 

Rent was $3,700 for the entire house, including three bedrooms and two bathrooms. We talked to two of my husband’s siblings who were also having trouble finding a place to live. We will all live there and split the bills. It’s the only way to live, for now. 

Justo was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and migrated to the United States in 2013. Since graduating from Rutgers University, he’s worked as a newsroom producer at Spanish-language television networks including Telemundo and Univision, earning Emmy awards in New York and California. As a bilingual reporter, he’s written from El Salvador, Mexico, and Northern California where he now lives. His work has been published in CBS News, NBC Latino, KQED, CNN, Universidad Portátil and Revista El Malpensante. As El Tímpano’s Community Voices Reporter, he works with community members to tell stories that shine light on the joys, struggles, and complexities of the immigrant experience.