Feeling the Pinch
We are in week 7 or 8 of a housing search. I have lost track.
We need to find a place for several reasons.
For one, it is getting colder, and our inexpensive little rental house does not have adequate heating. The landlord says the old electrical won't tolerate it. Imagining spending the colder months marooned in a tiny house with damp and musty blankets, a space heater, and two young children bouncing like pinballs around our 800 square feet makes me feel crazy.
For another, a good friend and coworker of mine is currently sleeping in a tent in her friend's sideyard with her 9 year-old kid. Why is this person homeless right now, you ask, when she has a respectable job?
Because she is no longer able to keep pace with the rental market in Olympia. It has become unworkable for a lower-wage single mother to afford an apartment of her own.
And what has always been unworkable remains so- single parenting is an impossible job. She wants to live with another family who can share the burdens and joys of childrearing.
So, somewhere around two months ago, just after she lost her house, we started searching for a large house to rent together. At this time, it was the height of summer, and her kid was off at camp. She planned to stay at a friend's for one month to save money, and then move into a place with us around the time that her kid got home...
Trouble is, we're still looking. Many landlords have said they are not willing to rent to our household of seven. And we have been going to these horrible open houses where the first applicant to finish filling out their application gets the place. So far we have not been the fastest writers.
Meanwhile both our cars have broken down, and her tent is getting wet.
We look at another place tomorrow.
My grandparents both graduated from vocational high schools, and had four children together. My grandfather worked as a telephone repairman, my grandmother was a homemaker until her youngest child went to school. When her mothering duties lessened somewhat, she got a job working part-time as a secretary. They owned their own home. It only had one bathroom, but there were four bedrooms and heating that worked and a big backyard and a dining room. I think of my grandmother at twenty-seven years old, a housewife with four kids. They didn't have a lot of fancy stuff. They ate tuna casserole for dinner, and camped for family vacations. But they had housing security.
You cannot find a family like theirs in Olympia today. Those families have vanished. Those families live in crappy, mold-infested apartments on the far end of Lacey. They have to get food stamps, and still can't afford enough tuna casserole for the month. Or they work three jobs between the two of them and the kids go to daycare 40 hours a week.
My friend's grandparents were farmers. They were poor their whole lives, but they owned acreage, and when things got tough, they'd sell off a little plot, or sell a cow to make ends meet. They worked hard every single day from the time they got up until they went to bed, and they had no luxuries in their life. But they had housing security. For my generation, that is a luxury that only the rich have.
We Olympians are in a bad situation here, and it is getting worse. As the housing market shifts, houses don't sell, and rents are expected to go up.
I know an Olympia family who was displaced when their house burnt down due to faulty electrical. They had a large family and a moderate income, and could not find a single landlord who would rent to them due to their family size. After a year of searching, living in temporary situations, they decided to relocate.
Landlords respond to my classified ad and say, "I have a nice place in Elma that I think would work for you." or Tenino. Or Bucoda. But I don't want to leave the town I have lived in my whole life. I wait for the right place to come along here. Maybe this weekend will be the one.