13 Jun Message from the ED: June 2018
About a month ago, I got the unfortunate news that my landlord needed to move back into his house that I was renting from him. However, don’t worry, he assured me, you have until August to find a place and make the move.
I knew what this meant… it was going to be nearly impossible to find a place in the same school zone, with three bedrooms, that takes pets and is in my price range. I downloaded the usual housing apps, put in my search filters and got the dismal results I had been expecting. Only two places showed up – a house that had seen better times decades ago, and another that actually had granite counter tops in a newly remodeled kitchen. Similar searches over the next two weeks led me to conclude the following: in the three years that I have been living in the north Kirkland area (as a single parent employed in an executive position of a nonprofit) I had been priced out of the rental market.
In 2015, I had settled in Bothell/Kirkland area because it was one of the few places I could afford and still have a reasonable commute to my work in downtown Bellevue. Thankfully, my rent had only increased by a small amount in those three years. But, now my searches were showing houses a few hundred dollars more than what I could afford!
I thought to myself; I could downsize and have my daughters go back to sharing a room –my teenage daughter would only be angry with me for a couple of years. Ironically, two-bedroom apartments were more expensive because of newer construction. At this point, my youngest daughter would have to switch elementary schools since nothing was available in her school zone. She was amenable to that but reminded me that getting her an Australian Shepard would make it much better. Duly noted.
In the meantime, my partner, Andrew, started checking for housing for six people, two cats, and two dogs if we would have to move in together, a year earlier than we had planned.
What I discovered is, even with two incomes, the rental market is still very narrow. In the end, we found only two places that fit our criteria, but I had to explain to my girls that we would most likely be moving to the Sammamish area, which meant new schools for both of them. Now I definitely had to get the dog!
We toured both places, with other families at the same time seeking the same thing – a reasonably affordable place to live. It was uncomfortable, and we smiled awkwardly as we passed each other in the hallways where eye contact was unavoidable. That same day, Andrew and I submitted both of our applications for each place knowing that we preferred the house on the acre over the house that had weird steps leading up to a bathtub on a platform.
Jackie, the real estate agent from the acre house, got back to me as she was processing my application. Something came up on my background check. For a second I panicked even though I had nothing to worry about. Three traffic violations dating from 2012 in South Carolina were going to derail my opportunity to get housing. I explained to her that I am not Angel Davis and that I had not visited South Carolina since 1995 so even though that person had my same social security number and date of birth that was not me. Luckily, she believed me, and my reference checks confirmed I was a good renter. She proceeded with the application and forwarded me the contact information for the company doing background checks so I could follow up with my stolen identity.
Two days later we got the exciting news, we were approved, and she needed a cashier’s check for an amount that made me gulp! That amount was the security deposit (one month’s rent plus pet deposits), the last week of May’s rent prorated, and June’s rent. Luckily, my partner is not in the nonprofit industry and had the resources to provide that amount. He was also going to be penalized two-month’s rent for breaking his lease. With a heavy sigh, Andrew did the math and surmised he would make that up in about six months by having me share utility costs. The lease was signed, and the cashier’s check handed in. We were given the keys. Hurrah!
The moving experience is another tale of high costs and immense hard work cleaning the current house and leaving it in good shape so that I could get back my security and pet deposit. My multiple communications inquiring about the deposit resulted in a single email from my ex-landlord stating more works need to be done, and we should do another walkthrough. [Heavy sigh]. To be continued on that front.
But, there is good news! I have experienced a beautiful dinner on our new backyard deck with my new blended family. Deer walk through our yard since we back up to a greenway. Birds wake up in the morning instead of traffic noise from 405. We also experience the morning challenges of having four girls share one bathroom, as they get ready for school.
I have shared my story with you not to highlight my hurdles with moving and finding affordable housing in East King County, but rather to illustrate the current rental market and environment from a personal perspective. Now take my experience – two white professionals working in director/leadership roles in both nonprofit/private sectors, good credit history, verifiable income, no criminal background (really!), no history of evictions, at least two years of recent rental history, quality references, and we are not battling with mental illness or substance use abuse.
I ask you to consider this… given all that I went through these four weeks, how does a woman experiencing homelessness even begin to find a home???
Angela Murray, Executive Director