The reason why I decided to write this series, is not because I like telling my business, but rather my housing situation has truly been surprising to me. I thought I did everything the “right” way. I got the degrees, I didn’t have a child until I was in my 40’s, and I have stayed out of trouble. I have applied for job after job after job, yet I struggle.
The fact that I experienced homelessness for over six months was frightening to me. Even in my 20’s, when I was the brokest of the broke, I still found a way to keep a roof over my head. It’s not as easy these days, with increasing rents, gentrification, and unsympathetic landlords excluding working poor communities.
In my current city, Portland, Oregon the displacement of communities of color, especially Black folks has been alarming. I relocated to Portland spring of this year, after my ill-fated attempt to make home in the Deep South. When my roommate and I were given an eviction notice due to an accident, I had had enough. I tried to get acclimated to my new southern town, it was hard. Like most kids who were raised in the north, but shipped to the south during the summer months to spend time with family, it was different living there full-time as an adult.
The “red stateness” of it all made it unbearable. The limited access to social services, poor public transportation, and proud “rebels” was a bit much. I had to witness a pro-confederate flag rally once a month, when I rode the bus to work. The rally was held right next to the civil war museum downtown. I’m sure you can guess which side the museum wished won.
I decided to return to Portland, after our landlord was committed to kicking my roommate and I out. I packed up my son and our belongs and the little money I had saved and got out of dodge. But as the saying goes, “jumped from the frying pan into the fire.”
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Initially, when we returned to Portland, we stayed in an airbnb then a hotel. Of course it was getting expensive, so I was excited when I came across an ad for an apartment. It was further than I had ever lived in Portland, but it had okay rent and more importantly, a flexible deposit. I noticed while looking for a place, deposit requirements were ridiculous. I feel it’s another way to keep out poor Black folks/folks of color from gentrified neighborhoods.
In my haste to get a place, I signed the lease before doing a walk-thru. The apartment was okay, but I was dismayed to find that the landlord failed to tell me that the sink in the kitchen was destroyed. I mean the cabinet door had been ripped off and it looked like someone smashed up the area. The wood was rotting. I was agitated the landlord didn’t mention this to me. I knew I needed to document the damage right away, lest the apartment complex tried to blame me for the mess/tried to make me pay for it to get fixed.
My requests for repairs were ignored for two months. Finally, I decided to withhold partial rent, as I read that it was okay to do this if landlords didn’t make repairs. While tenants can withhold rent, my lawyer (which I eventually had to get) said it’s better to do so when you have legal support. Otherwise, what will happen (which happened to me), is that the landlord will just try to evict you, as technically you are behind on rent.
Sadly, the days of helpful landlords are over. Particularity, in a place like Portland, where landlords have a lot of power. This is due to the wave of gentrification, taking over the city. There are very wealthy (white) people moving here, and their needs are getting meet first. It’s making the voices of the poor/people of color obsolete. We are being pushed to the outskirts of the city, in marginalized neighborhoods…into apartment complexes that are crap for the most part, and still kind of pricey.
I recently just survived an eviction hearing. I’m hoping to avoid another one. It’s ridiculous. I had to deal with an eviction attempt for a repair that was an accident and I paid for, now dealing with an eviction attempt over a repair I didn’t create, landlord dragged feet on fixing, and I’m still in trouble.
The combination of increasing rents/gentrification/indifferent landlords has created a housing crisis for Americans, especially Black folks. There really needs to be an agenda for housing justice in this country. It’s not that I didn’t care about this issue before, but my experiences has made me realize how easily one can find themselves on the streets.
Recently, I read a good article about the late great sci-fi writer Octavia Butler. The writer pointed out how eerily a lot of what was written in Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” series is coming true. I thought this was the case particularly regarding housing/community stability. It was noted that in Butler’s book the middle class and working folks have to fend against the homeless and other folks on the margins.
It’s been a while since I’ve read the book(s), but I remember how these communities were vulnerable to being overtaken by those with little else to lose. Eventually, it does happen. The displaced tear down the walls, and thus, creating chaos in the neighborhoods. It was a warning that you can’t keep “undesirables” out forever. That you can’t keep people in poverty/oppressed/exploited and they won’t at some point turn on you. That you have to deal with the hopelessness eating at people’s lives.
I see the current housing problem as the catalyst of what came into fruition in Butler’s novel. What will be our future if it’s not addressed soon.