Tenants rights advocate now facing eviction herself after series of setbacks

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As a tenants rights advocate Jessica Margeson led a clinic meeting with tenants having problems paying the rent a for are being evicted. Now, she is the one in jeopardy of losing her apartment. Fil Photo/Pat Grossmith

MANCHESTER, NH – For two years, Jessica Margeson has helped dozens upon dozens of anguished people through the eviction process and when evicted, worked to try and find housing for them.


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RELATED STORY: Rising cost of getting by: Welfare offices across the state seeing increase in people seeking help


Today, the 46-year-old mother of two – ages 20 and 17 (her 17-year-old son lives with her) finds herself in the same predicament after a string of bad luck.

It began in August 2022 when funding for her Granite State Organizing Project tenants’ rights job ran out and her hours were cut.

“My wages were cut $1,000 a month,” she said.  “That was huge to me.”

In October and November of 2022, she was hospitalized four times with an intractable migraine for a total of 42 days, which left her unable to work, affecting her income further.

Those setbacks resulted in her being unable to pay her $800 a month rent (plus utilities) for two months in 2022 on her 474 Cartier St. apartment.  Then her car broke down – twice – hitting her with two large repair bills to pay while making a monthly car payment.

Still, Margeson kept plugging along in a “rob Peter to pay Paul” fashion – not paying rent at times while paying for the auto repair or the car payment – until ultimately her landlord Paul DiIulio went to court seeking her eviction when she racked up $2,600 in arrearages.  She said she asked to pay him back in monthly payments but, she said, he demanded it all.

Manchester Ink Link reached out to DiIulio for comment but didn’t hear back.

This is the second time Margeson has faced eviction.  The other time was 17 years ago when she was a single mom, her children, then ages 3 and 1.  Margeson educated herself on the eviction process and, as the years went on, helped others as an unpaid volunteer. 

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Jess Margeson has been an outspoken advocate for tenants over the years and has spoken before the Board of Aldermen many times, as in this 2021 photo. File Photo/Andrew Sylvia

And just as she did all those years ago, Margeson last month sought help from the Manchester Welfare Department.

“What I went through was horrific,” Margeson told the Mayor and Board of Aldermen at a recent aldermanic meeting about her experience dealing with city welfare.  She had heard from her clients what a nightmare it was to deal with the department so she knew what to expect but, still, she said it is entirely different to experience it first-hand.

She told the mayor and aldermen the entire department needs to be revamped and she called for an outside review of those cases where people were denied benefits.  She also said there needs to be a clear delineation of exactly who will be contacted and an applicant should have the chance to give prior approval to ensure the safety and confidentiality of all. 

She gave examples of what she meant:  a domestic violence client was exposed to her abuser; a person lost their employment because of welfare’s repeated calls to their employer, and contacting a landlord’s attorney without a client’s knowledge and approval.  Margeson told Manchester Ink Link that she was the client whose landlord’s lawyer was called. 

The morning after she spoke at the aldermanic meeting, Margeson said welfare called her landlord’s attorney, Andrew Sullivan, and told him she wasn’t in compliance and that they were not going to pay the $800 in back rent.  When welfare withdrew that cash, Margeson said she lost $500 that St. Vincent’s De Paul was giving her.  That money was contingent on the welfare department paying up the $800.

Margeson, as of Aug. 23, 2023, owes DiIulio, d/b/a Derryfield Property Management, $2,615, according to court documents.  She said the welfare department, in order for her to obtain $800, wanted her to defer her auto loan payment and stop paying her cell phone, which she uses for work, and get a free one from the state. 

Margeson said the interest rate on her car payment is 20 percent because of her credit rating.  But she had worked out a deal with a bank that if she made six payments, the car could be refinanced at a 9.9% rate, saving her $220 a month.  But then life got in the way and she had back-to-back financial hits.

When someone defers a car payment, interest is accrued during the deferment period and the overall loan balance is increased.  In some cases, borrowers are subject to additional fees.  So, deferring the car loan, she said, would put her even further in debt.  And, she said, she had already deferred it once.

She wanted to use her son’s Social Security check to pay her car loan and monthly insurance, so that she would not lose her car, and she said welfare told her no.   Car insurance is not considered a basic need, she was told.  Staffers also suggested she take a money management class.

Margeson said she also was asked if she received any funds through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and if she had saved any money from that.  She last received federal assistance nine months ago, she said.

“They were constantly asking about that,” she said.  “It seems like you are being penalized for accepting assistance before and for having a car.”

Margeson was raised in New York and Florida but came to Manchester 24 years ago.  She worked as a hairstylist for many years until her arms gave out.  Initially, she was diagnosed with carpal tunnel and tendonitis.  Ultimately, she was diagnosed with a rare disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disease.  She has muscle tears that cannot be repaired and suffers dislocations.  She receives Social Security disability.

For a seven-year period, Margeson said she didn’t drive because of her disease. The car she bought, she explained, came with backup mirrors and other features that make it possible for her to drive.

A welfare staffer, she said, also contacted her landlord and then worked out a repayment plan for her with his attorney, all without her knowledge or consent.  It included her paying the attorney’s fees of $1,200.  She now owes $3,815.  

Since Sullivan charges about $350 an hour, Margeson said $175 of that $1,200 covers the 30 minutes a welfare staffer spoke to him on the phone concerning the deal.

Charleen Michaud, city welfare director, said because of confidentiality issues she cannot comment on Margeson’s case.  (See related story here about the city welfare department and how it determines general assistance.)

Margeson said the deal welfare and Sullivan worked out called for her to pay her $800 rent each month and another $325 monthly to cover arrearages and legal fees.  The landlord also was to receive $800 from the city and $500 from St. Vincent de Paul.  The agreement didn’t say they would erase the eviction from her record if she complied with all conditions, something she added at court.

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Friends of Jessica Margeson are rallying around her with an online fundraiser to help her avoid eviction after a series of financial and health setbacks.

Margeson said she signed the agreement, even though the $1,300 wasn’t paid, because the lawyer said they would recalculate the amount if the $1,300 didn’t come through.  She regrets not getting that in writing. All she wanted was a way to ensure an eviction wouldn’t be on her record.

She has since filed a motion asking the court to set aside the agreement since she did not get the promised $1,300.  A hearing is set for Thursday, Sept. 21, in 9th Circuit – District Division – Manchester. 

Margeson said it is only a matter of time before she will be evicted.  She had the “hard talk” with her 17-year-old son about whether he wanted to go wherever she goes once they are evicted or if he wanted to go stay with a friend.   He chose staying with a friend, she said.  Crying, she said she is glad he made that choice because as a junior in high school, he needs to retain normalcy in his life.

Once evicted, she expects she will stay with a friend until she is able to get back on her feet. In hindsight, she said she wishes that she had contacted welfare when her wages were cut, she first got sick and couldn’t pay all her bills.  She thinks the outcome might have been different.

In the meantime,    

Deborah Starin, a friend, has organized a fund-raiser on spotfund.com to raise $2,000 for Margeson.

Margeson estimates she needs $5,000 but said Starin posted a lower amount thinking more people would donate.


 

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About this Author

Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.