I have a confession to make: I’m homeless. Okay, not in the conventional, living on the street, pushing a shopping cart and begging for change homeless, but homeless nonetheless. Let me explain. The housing and banking crisis didn’t just screw the homeowners of America; it screwed the innocent renters like me. You see, I gave up the apartment lifestyle ten years ago to embrace living in someone else’s retirement fund. This, in retrospect, turned out to not be such a great idea. Come, follow me on a six year odyssey of being a nomad.
In the year 2000 I became fed up with living under Krazy Kuldeep’s All Nigh Indian Disco and decided I didn’t want to live with neighbors above, below, to the side and parked on top of my pet cat. I lived beneath a “24 Hour” apartment which housed a total of seven people in a two-bedroom apartment all of whom had random work schedules. The radio/TV/stereo/non-stop arguments went on 24/7/365. These people believed that you phoned home by standing on the balcony and screaming so loud that the other person could hear you no matter where s/he was in the entire world. So, I decided to move to a single-family home. I’ve been on the run ever since.
You see, Alameda County, CA is under rent control. The landlords can’t raise the rent more than a small percentage each year. The landlord also cannot refuse to renew a lease or end a lease without a 30 day notice. This became problematic in the land grab during the early part of the decade. The landlords wanted more money, the big payoff of their home ownership, or a generous (aka over-bid, over-market value) offer on their property. Apartment complexes turned in “condo conversions” with the offer to buy in at a price that was too ridiculous for the average working person to pay. Every single year, without fail, I had a landlord sell the property while I was living in it, decide not to renew a lease (usually without the mandatory 30 days notice, but try fighting that some time), or default on their “investment property” while I was still in it. As a result, I have moved every year for the past six years. I’ve become an expert on finding an apartment or property rental, securing emergency funds and packing everything I own in a period of two weeks. I travel light. If it’s not a cat, the forks or the paper plates, chances are it never even leaves a box anymore.
My current place is, well, a total shithole. I hate to use that term, but I can’t think of a nice one. Upon the foreclosure of the last house I lived in I managed to secure this place in less than two weeks on the promise that it was “a valuable investment” and would be fixed up before I moved in. Two things: Ha. Ha. The house isn’t exactly crumbling, but I have a kitchen composed of leftover countertops and hardware from the Home Depot remnant pile, “brand new” electrical wiring that has fried my icemaker and prevents me from plugging more than one thing in an outlet at the time, a landscaping that consists of waist-high weeds, leaking windows and cheap drywall made of paper mache that can’t hold the weight of an average fruit fly. My drapes have literally fallen out of the wall. Try changing your clothes or taking a shower when you know that you may just be the subject of a random peepshow at any time.
I still have unpacked boxes. I mean, why bother? I don’t hang a picture, I don’t unpack all of my things; I only reluctantly unpack the cookware. Why own anything? Why unpack my grandmother’s dishes? There’s no point. They’re only going to end up back in newspaper a few months from now. I’m a nomad. I have no home, no place to settle and no guarantee I’m going to be here tomorrow. I am effectively homeless.
What drives me crazy more than anything is that whenever I apply to a place for rent, I am required to provide a W-2, proof of income, pay stubs, a credit report, a blood sample, five references, a pedigree, a spare tire, proof that my cats do not have a criminal record (tough to do, I don’t know what they do all night), a bank account number (so the landlord can start ripping me off early) and a magical ring of power so that the landlord may harness pure evil and turn invisible. I, in turn, may not even think about asking if the property management company or landlord is financially solvent. Forget about financial stability, I’m supposed to take it on faith that the house will be there tomorrow, not collapse, not be built on a Superfund site or get foreclosed on in the next three months. Why can’t I require proof of the landlord or management company’s financial solvency? Renting is a one-sided system with the advantage on the side of the liar/cheat/criminal/polluter.
I’m homeless. I think about this as I search boxes for my research records and the brand-new folders I bought last year. I’m homeless. I think about this as I trip over boxes on the third floor, never to be opened; items never finding a place of their own. I’m homeless, waiting for the notice to show up on my door, looking for a notarized court-order telling me that no matter how short on cash I am, I’m going to move. I’m homeless. There’s not a picture of family or friends to be found, no Christmas tree, no memories worth keeping. I’m homeless: bankrupted by SOMEBODY ELSE’S financial failure and poor life choices. I’m homeless. Praying I can find a landlord who will accept the pets I’ve rescued from the streets in the hope of redeeming myself. I’m homeless.
I’d love to go on, but there’s boxes to search for things I lost two years ago, and I have to tape those boxes back up because it never hurts to be ready to move. After all, the life of a nomad is not to sit still and be sentimental, but to move on and get to greener pastures.