People Have to Live Somewhere

Every single day, I commute past tent encampments for the homeless here in Seattle. When I first came out here, I found this shocking. I came from Jacksonville, Florida, and I had never seen anything quite like this. You’d think the Florida climate would be more amenable to homelessness, but no. The West Coast experiences much more of it than the East Coast does, according to most homeless counts. It disturbs me greatly that I’m getting used to the sight of these encampments. The shock is gone. The sadness remains.

I’ve got a few theories, now, as to why there’s such a difference from one coast to the other. First, of course, is that living out here is about 3 times more expensive than it is in Jacksonville. A lot more of us, here, teeter on the brink of financial ruin. Second, there are fewer places to hide such encampments. While Seattle has a much lower population than Jacksonville, it’s much more densely packed. There are not huge swaths of woods in which one can disappear. Third, I suspect we’re a good deal more tolerant out here. I know for a fact that the Jacksonville police tend to drive people out to the county line and dump them, making them continually walk the 20 or 30 odd miles back to civilization in the oppressive heat, without food or water.

That county line solution is just cruel. People have to live somewhere. Every creature on this planet does. It’s not a homeless problem. It’s a home problem. And it isn’t new.

A friend of mine shared with me this photo of Seattle’s Hooverville from the 1930’s. After reading about it on historylink.org, the amazing free online encyclopedia of Washington state history (specifically here and here), I discovered that this photo only captures about half the shantytown that existed there at the time, and there were others scattered about as well. The conditions were appalling. People built shacks out of whatever they could find. The city burned them down twice before they recognized the futility of it all. People have to live somewhere.

Incidentally, that Hooverville is not far from where Starbucks corporate headquarters now stands. Irony, anyone? And as long as REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts) are allowed to exist, giving the richest among us the ability to make huge profits from housing, thus artificially inflating rents, this problem will only get worse.

When I get off work at 11pm, on my way home, I often see an old man with a walker standing by the stop sign at the end of my highway exit ramp. He holds a sign that says, “Homeless veteran. Please help.” The cynical side of me thinks about all the stories one hears about people making very good money through panhandling, and the stories about how some people want to be homeless. But this guy… I’ve seen him out there at midnight, in the pouring rain, in 35 degree temperatures. No financial return or lust for a freewheeling life can explain that.

The man needs help. And I feel very inadequate to the task. I couldn’t even help one person for more than a few days. And there are just so many out there. I don’t know what to do.

Sometimes I resent this man. He doesn’t let me forget. He doesn’t give me the peace to drive home to my nice house at the end of my shift and climb into my hot tub and forget.

But then I realize that he probably would like to forget, too.

Seattle Hooverville

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Homesharing

Every once in a while, you stumble upon an absolutely brilliant idea that makes you wonder why no one has thought of it before. It just makes so much sense on so many levels that you know it’s meant to be. That was my thought process when I saw this video.

Imagine this: a 95-year-old woman is living alone in her home after the death of her husband. She’s bored. She’s lonely. She worries that she could fall down and get hurt and nobody would know.

Enter a 27-year-old student who is new to the city and doesn’t know a soul. She, too, is lonely, and money is very tight for her. As we all know, rent in big cities is becoming outrageously expensive. And the more money she saves, the less she will owe in student loans, which is also an increasing problem.

Through a homesharing program, the student lives with the 95-year-old, and pays a reduced rent for the privilege, and now has a quiet place to study. The funds probably help the elderly woman as much as the savings helps the student. They both benefit from the companionship, and they both feel much safer. Best of all, they each make a new friend.

Perfect!

Yes, the student would need a fair amount of vetting. You wouldn’t want some old person being bullied and taken advantage of. But with some administrative oversight, I can see how this could be the ultimate win/win situation.

I think that there should be a homesharing program in every city. If there is an elder advocacy agency of some sort near you, please have them watch this video and then perhaps have them reach out to student housing offices at local universities. This is an idea whose time has come!

hands

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My Newfound Independence

Every year on this date, my thoughts naturally turn toward independence. But this year, ah, this year! I truly am feeling independent for the first time in ages.

First of all, I am a homeowner again. That means that I am no longer at the mercy of landlords. I don’t have to worry about them hiking my rent up every year.

And I don’t have to deal with arbitrary insanity. I had one landlord who insisted on inspecting the place every few months. She would waltz in wearing (I swear to God) a leather dress (in Florida!) and spiked heels, and would root around in my closets, being careful not to mess up her bleached blonde chignon in the process, and say, in a thick Russian accent, “You need to dust.”

And then there was the landlady whose son was a felon who was growing marijuana in the back yard, and who was unabashed about committing a number of fraudulent acts herself, and yet treated me like I was a criminal even as she blatantly overcharged me for utilities.

No more of that foolishness! I’m in control! I am the queen of my castle! I will never again be put in a position where I fear that I won’t be allowed to keep my own dogs. That’s a weight off my shoulders, indeed.

And another thing that has happened recently is a certain shift in attitude deep within myself. You see, this time last year, I was trying really, really hard to find a man. To complete me? I don’t know. But it seemed important at the time. It was a solid year of being overlooked, discounted, insulted, rejected, passed over, or any combination of those things, that sent me on this house hunting expedition in the first place.

I decided, basically, to hell with men. Who needs them? If they can’t see my value, they are not worth my time and energy. It was high time I started focusing on things that I can control, such as giving myself the best living situation possible. Hence the house hunt. And it is the best choice I’ve made in a long, long time, let me tell you.

And oddly enough, when I think of trying to fit a man into my life now, I feel kind of claustrophobic. I probably won’t feel this way forever, but at the moment men seem kind of icky. So there’s one less thing on the ol’ to-do list! Yay!

As I write this, I’m lying in MY bed, with MY dog, in MY house. And I can genuinely say that I have everything I need. And I’m perfectly content letting the wants take care of themselves for now. And that’s an amazingly independent feeling.

Happy 4th of July!

Independent Woman

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Dear New Tenants

When you rent a place that you know has been a rental property for many years, you tend to think of it as having no emotional history whatsoever. It’s easy to assume that it’s just a space that has been occupied by a long line of non-owners who came, paid their rent, and then moved on. Maybe I’m unique in this way, but I like to think that the house I am in has been a home, and I’m just continuing that tradition. With that in mind, I’ve decided to write a letter to the people who are about to move into the place I’ve just vacated.

Dear New Tenants:

Welcome to your new home. My name is Barb, and I have lived here with my dogs for the past 3 years. It’s hard for me to leave this place. I’ve loved every minute of my stay here.

I came here from Florida, and I didn’t know a soul. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest before, and it was all very new to me. It’s kind of scary to start over when you’re in your 50’s, but that’s what I did.

As I struggled to get used to a new job and make new friends, and as I attempted to grasp a completely different culture, this house was my stability. I looked forward to coming home each day. In the warmer months I would sit in this wonderful back yard and eat my dinner while my dogs played, and the wind blew gently through the trees. I’d watch the birds and bask in the peaceful solitude.

When feeling sad or lonely, I’d take a nice long bath. And I’ve always felt safe here, so I was able to sleep better in this place than I have anywhere in my entire life. I’ll miss cooking in the kitchen and gazing out the window. I’ve made plans here. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried here.

Paula and Kevin and Jackson next door have become very good friends to me, and I will miss knowing they are only a shout away. I’ve had many delightful conversations with them as they stood in their back yard and I looked down from my bedroom window. If you have any questions about the neighborhood, I’m sure they would be happy to answer them for you. Also, if you have any questions specifically about this wonderful house, they know how to contact me.

I have bought a house down in Xxxxxxxx, simply because I knew that rent in this area would be going up each year, and would quickly get too expensive for me. If not for that, I’d have stayed here for the rest of my days. I will have tears in my eyes when I lock the door for the final time.

I hope you come to love this place as much as I did, and that you continue to fill it with happy memories. I wish you well.

-Barb

welcome home

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One Very Close Shave

So, I’ve been house hunting in the cutthroat Seattle market. After three rejected bids, two of which were soul-crushing, I was sorely tempted to give up. But I don’t really have that luxury. If I don’t lock down a steady mortgage payment, my rent is bound to increase way beyond my means. So I resigned myself to seeing this putrid process to its bitter end.

It’s kind of like being nauseous on the interstate during rush hour. You want to pull over and barf, but you fear for your life. So you take the risk, instead, of possibly vomiting down the front of your shirt while going 70 miles per hour, and just pray that that doesn’t happen. Yup. That’s house hunting in Seattle in a nutshell.

But I kept putting my rejected and dejected little self out there. I saw a ton of dumps. I also saw a lot of really nice houses that were ultimately competitively bid right out of my price range. Then I came across bid number 4. This was a nice enough house, but not so nice that it would break the bank. More than enough room. Fenced back yard, sort of. New kitchen appliances. A lot further out than I ever intended to commute. And carpet, unfortunately, and the smallest bathtub I’ve ever seen in my life, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right?

As we were leaving the house, the woman who lives across the street called us over. She said, “You know, they’re hiding mold.” Oh goody. A neighbor who is bat shit crazy. I definitely didn’t get a mold vibe from this house, but that’s what inspections are for.

So I put in my bid. And I was the only one who did, so I won! I have the crazy neighbor to thank, no doubt. She most likely scared everyone else off. Trust me to have a guardian angel who is nutty.

The next step was the inspection. The house was built in 1920, so I knew there’d be a few issues, but I really didn’t anticipate anything major. I resigned myself to the two page long list of cosmetic repairs I had already compiled. This house was going to be work, no doubt about it. Sigh.

On inspection day, I was thrilled to notice that there is a great big tree between my front porch and the crazy lady’s house. I had thought I’d have to stay in the back yard to avoid her. Maybe not. This was good news.

While I measured rooms and calculated how much paint I’d need to make that lovely old picket fence white again, the inspector crawled into the attic and into the crawl space beneath the house. He came out looking grim. But I let him complete the inspection, knowing he’d give me a full rundown afterward.

Oh, and he did. Did he ever.

First of all, there was a two-inch thick carpet of rat poop in the attic and below the house. Knowing that for every cup of rat poop, there’s usually three cups of rat pee, I began to have visions of hantavirus dancing in my head. They’d have to hire professionals to pull out all the insulation and the vapor barrier and remove all that soil…

But wait. There’s more. Apparently, the clean out cap was missing on a pipe under the house, so every time someone had flushed the toilet for, oh, YEARS, the sewage was sprayed all under the house. Yummy. Nothing like a hazmat situation to make you want to move right in!

And then there was the rotted joist, and the abandoned section of chimney that was crumbling and threatening to rain bricks upon my head at any moment. And none of the wiring was up to code. And the sink was leaking.

And crazy woman was not the only character in the neighborhood. I tried to introduce myself to a few neighbors, and got a really hostile vibe.

Needless to say, my little voice was telling me that this was not the house for me. But such was my desperation that I still tried to ignore it. I wanted this whole process to be over.

Fortunately, I have the best realtor on earth in Cris LeCompte. While I fitfully slept, he found another, much better house for me to look at, because the situation was bothering him, too. And when I saw it, I had no reservations. My little voice was no longer screaming in my ear. So I bid on it.

I also withdrew my bid on the rat house. And it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Yes, I had to spend $420 for the inspection, but that saved me from spending $295,000 on a nightmare of a money pit, so I consider it money well spent.

Now I’m buying a house that feels like a home. Woo hoo! More on that in another entry!

CloseShave

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Greed

I’ve been learning a very unpleasant economics lesson lately. Attempting to buy a house in the Seattle, Washington area is leaving a bitter taste in my mouth indeed. This is the most booming seller’s market in the entire country, and therefore I’m experiencing cutthroat competition.

I’ve seen house values nearly double in the three years I’ve been here. There’s a good reason for that. Seattle is issuing 200 new drivers licenses every single day. That’s how many adults are moving to the area. And the number of available housing units isn’t even coming close to keeping up with that pace, so everyone, including me, is getting desperate.

Personally, I’d sit back a few years until this foolishness dies down, except that rents are going through the roof (pardon the pun), as well. I’ve had more than one friend experience a $500 a month rent hike when they went to renew their leases. If that happens to me I’ll be sleeping on a park bench, in the rain, using my dog Quagmire as a pillow.

The frustrating thing about this is that the “value” of these houses is hyper-inflated simply because it can be. I saw a little 900 square foot house with a tiny yard, built in the 1930’s, and the seller is asking 2.5 million, and will probably get it. Location, location, location.

But what is this city going to turn into if only the type of people who can pay that kind of money are able to live here? In terms of quality of life, it’s been my experience that any city is better off without an overabundance of rich, insufferable, entitled assholes. You need people like me to scrub your toilets and flip your hamburgers. You need diversity and culture to be a really stellar city. But that’ll only work if we have a place to sleep during our off hours.

A lot of sellers aren’t even bothering to tidy up their places before listing them, because they know they don’t have to. Somebody is going to buy it regardless, and probably for 75k above the asking price, so why waste your energy?

Recently I saw my dream house, and the asking price was within my range, so I bid on it. But 8 other people did, too, increasing the price so much that I couldn’t come close to competing, and the person whose bid was accepted not only waived the inspection, but paid cash. Cash. There’s no way I can keep up in this market. I’m going to wind up in a hovel right on the end of the airport flight line, or in a dangerous neighborhood, or with a 2 hour commute each way.

There is something wrong when a 52-year-old woman who has worked steadily since the age of 10 cannot afford to live anywhere within 50 miles of her place of employment. Did I pull the wings off flies in a former life, or something? This is a truly messed up situation.

Everybody knows that their houses aren’t “really” worth what they’re getting for them these days. But they’ll take it, by God! Greed trumps everything in this country. Granted, a lot of them kind of have no choice if THEY are trying to buy another house in this area. Some people are born greedy, and others have greediness thrust upon them. It’s not a good look either way. Sometimes “because I can” is not the best reason to do something.

If I were selling my house, I don’t think I’d take the very top bid. I’d also take into consideration if the person will continue to make the house a home, and be a good neighbor, and really loves what I’ve tried to do with my abode over the years. Better yet, I wouldn’t put it on the market at all. I’d find a deserving person and work with him or her to make it possible. I wouldn’t sell it to an investor or someone looking to turn it into a rental property, or worse, tear it down and put up a high rise, for Pete’s sake. Because avoiding that is the right thing to do. The decent thing to do. It’s the thing to do if you have any integrity at all.

But that’s the nasty thing this home buying experience is teaching me. People, as a general rule, do not have integrity. Their moral compasses are spinning in lazy circles.

The only way I’m going to find a home around here is if someone gives me a little bit of a freakin’ break. And here’s the thing. No one is going to do that.

So there you go.

Park bench

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Shipping Container Chic

No doubt about it. Seattle is booming. The city bird should be the construction crane. Despite the astonishing number of buildings being erected, contractors can barely keep up with the housing demand.

Because of this, landlords know they can basically charge whatever they like in rent. According to Rent Jungle, as of May 2015, the average apartment rent within 10 miles of Seattle was $1853. One bedroom apartments rent for $1501 on average, and two bedroom apartment rents average $2015 per month.

This, to me, is obscene, but it gets worse. Since it obviously is quite profitable to own apartment buildings in this town, they’re cropping up like mushrooms overnight. And they’re being built as cheaply as possible, with little or no regard for aesthetics.

There’s an architectural trend in this city that I like to call “Shipping Container Chic” because these buildings look like your basic metal shipping containers, stacked one on top of the other, and the apartments themselves have about that much charm. And half the time no allowances are being made for parking, which is adding to Seattle’s gridlock.

The proliferation of this style means that this city is getting uglier by the minute, but apparently that’s okay, because, by God, it’s profitable. If this keeps up, the whole area will harken back to Communist era housing, with a little bit of colored paint thrown in as an afterthought. What ever happened to style and variety? Ugh.

Shipping5 Shipping Shipping3