By Maria-Pia Negro
GERMANTOWN – Elliot Cruz and Angella Camacho began married life last year in the living room of a one-bedroom Gaithersburg apartment.
Cruz’s roommate had the bedroom. And when she moved out, Camacho and Cruz struggled to pay the $1,100 rent on their own.
Camacho was out of work and Cruz’s full-time job as a computer technician paid $12 an hour. After the rent, they barely had enough to cover food, bus fare and the phone bill.
“We were living paycheck to paycheck,” Cruz, 29, said.
Things got worse in August. Cruz was laid off from his job as a computer technician, and they had to live on his unemployment benefits of $350 a week. Camacho, 22, did some baby-sitting. They went to a food bank once a month.
“There were no ways to get a car. There were no ways to get health insurance,” Cruz said. “We had public transportation nearby, but the cost of the location drained all your money.”
They began looking for a cheaper place to live, but Montgomery County has the one of the highest housing costs in the country.
In December, they found a two-bedroom basement apartment for $700 a month about four miles north in Germantown.
Since then, both Camacho and Cruz landed new jobs. She is working full time as a recruitment coordinator at a Rockville marketing research company. He returned to the medical-supply manufacturing company that laid him off. He also started a floor installation business on the side.
They’re working long hours but saved $4,000 to buy a used car — cutting out the 20-minute walk to and from the bus stop. And they expect to bring in $66,000 this year. Even so, they are planning to stay in the basement apartment with its inexpensive monthly rent so they can afford to finish school.
She is returning to college this fall to get her bachelor’s degree. Cruz wants to complete an information technology certification program.
Children are out of the question until both of them make more money, Camacho said.
Camacho considers the basement apartment a safety net now.
“One can never know if they are going to get fired or not,” she said. “Whatever savings we have, we are trying to stretch it to grow as much as possible. We have to be ready for anything.”