Landlords Are Literal Scum

Of course the irony of me calling landlords “literal scum,” is that many of them actually view renters in the same vein. And, in both cases, there are likely a whole scale on which you could plot individuals who either landlord or tenant. Some are probably genuinely good people, just using their starter home as a way to make a little extra income in their retirement; and in the case of tenants, most are simply middle or working class people that find themselves the product of capitalism run amuck. There are always going to be slumlords, of course; and there will also be your occasional renters that burn cigarette holes in the carpet, and mix meth in the bathtub.

This is no different, though, than your average home owner. For every slumlord that expects others to live in mold and grime, I’m sure there are just as many voluntarily doing it themselves. And, well you know, people that make drugs actually are often homeowners, because — duh – who else can afford a house in this market?

If you are a landlord, this is of no offense to you. I’m sure you’re a nice person. But, if you continue reading this and see some of your own behaviors in what I am about to describe…

… well, it’s time to start evaluating your behaviors.

As many of you know, we’ve been looking for a new rental home for what feels like forever. In January our lease was terminated so that our landlord’s friends could move into the home we had rented and taken care of as our own for years; and because they callously refused to give us a little extra time to find a new rental, we wound up 45 minutes away from our home and community in a temporary rental that is looking less and less temporary by the day.

The process of finding a new rental has been less than desirable.

Security Deposits

It’s common knowledge, now, that a security deposit is really just a tip or a bonus that your landlord nickels and dimes to death at the end of your tenancy, so as to never have to give you a penny of that back. And say you are able to get some of that money back… Well your landlord put that in a bond, cd, or savings all those years and earned interest… and you? Well, you’re not going to see a penny of that (the interest earned on your money).

What’s absolutely bananas now, though, is that while people purchasing homes are getting into bidding wars over house prices; renters are now getting into all out bidding wars over rent, and security deposits. We’ve had several rejections now that were as simple as the other party was able to offer upwards of double or triple the security deposit.

Back of the napkin math, at the prices and the security deposit limits in California: that’s people offering $10,000, $13,000, in some cases even $18,000 for the security deposit, alone. Just to get the edge over other applicants. And while laws prohibit what a landlord can require, nothing stops them in any amount that they are allowed to take.

Maintenance

Maintenance is tricky in a rental because, while required to provide you with a habitable home, the definition of habitable is very subjective. When you sign a standardized lease, it’ll say something to the effect of: you accept the condition of the home as is. But most of the time, if the landlord even takes the time to show you the rental, they want you in and out in a matter of just a few minutes at the viewing.

We just attended a viewing of a home we did not get selected for last week, and the place was not only limited in the amount of time the irritable property manage let us look at it for, but it was a complete disaster. Had we been able to even see the counters, we may have uncovered major cosmetic issues; or holes in walls, or missing essentials. It was just that much of a pigsty, the previous renter being a real estate agent herself who apparently didn’t think renters deserved to actually view the condition of the floors or sinks. We left at the point when we needed to measure the room that our California King bed would go in, and the door wouldn’t even fully open because there was so much stuff on the floor. I guess to a landlord, if your bed doesn’t fit you should just sleep on the concrete tile.

I took some heat for complaining about this over on Facebook – busy mom, you should worry about the home itself not the mess. Well the issue was that the mess and the rush of the viewing made it virtually impossible to see the home itself, and potentially major maintenance issues. And maybe that was the point. Major maintenance issues often can’t be noticed until you’ve lived in the home for a while. At the temporary rental we’re in now, after spending just over two months here, we’ve discovered:

  • Mold and moisture in the floorboards
  • An electrical problem through the entire house
  • No working garbage disposal
  • Roots in the sewer line
  • And quite a few more minor things that are inconvenient, not dire, but for the amount we pay should be fixed

The problem with maintenance of course is several fold. First, it’s common knowledge that landlords retaliate for major maintenance issues, especially appliances that have to be repaired. In our prior rental, we suspect that at least part of their decision, or the way it played out, was retaliation for the fact that the oven broke and had to be replaced just a few months before they terminated our tenancy. Retaliation is – of course – illegal; as is outright refusing to make repairs. But what are you going to do? Go to court? Sue them?

Some states have laws that protect you, that allow you to claim what’s called warrant of habitability. You have several options, legally, at that point: you can move out without notice, repair and deduct, refuse to pay your rent… But under any and all circumstances, you’d better be prepared for attorney retainers and a court battle.

Back to the rental we are in now: we’ve already had one maintenance issue outright refused, and another blamed on us simply because they didn’t know about it until someone moved here. Bottom line? Landlords are literal scum, and expect their tenants to live among that which they leave in their trail.

They’re Doing You A Favor, Ok?

The most pervasive, and the same time backwards, attitude that I have come across over the last year is that landlords are doing us a favor by letting us live in their homes.

First of all, many landlords (again, not all; but many) are actually major corporations or big time, locally owned, commercial property management companies. These are not their personal homes that they lovingly cared for over decades and just grew out of, and decided to rent out instead of sell to help fund their retirement. Even single property owners that have no personal history with a home are becoming more prevalent in the rental market: it’s a money maker, after all.

At our last rental, the one we got booted out of, the owners had 10 other properties around the county, and had purchased the one we lived in and immediately turned it around to rent out without ever stepping a foot into the house.

But the idea of ownership is so uniquely built in to the fabric of our society… They’re doing you a favor, ok? If they didn’t own the home, you’d have nowhere to live. Right?

Wrong.

In California, as just one example, approximately 45% of the state identifies as a renter, which – obviously – is almost half the state’s population. But the issue isn’t that without ownership we’d all have nowhere to live; it’s actually that the owners (again many of whom are mostly just investors, property management companies, and large corporations) have an absolute death grip over municipal and county governments, and their lobby has profoundly limited even the amount of housing that is built for anyone – rent or buy. Have you ever looked at the campaign finance disclosures for your local elections? It’s typically one realtor and broker, property manager, and property investor after another that donates to local candidates, as well as the local and state real estate PACs that have the explicit interest of keeping the market hot in mind. Their sway – the NIMBYism, or practice of not wanting to build more and adequate housing in a timely manner, has created such an unprecedented crisis of housing availability that its effects are a little much to even wrap your head around: they’ve not only driven up rental prices, but they’ve created this environment of competition that leaves middle and lower income renters with few options, filling up short term rentals, local motels, and side streets with entire families living in their cars (or worse) simply because there just is not enough housing to go around.

Of course the irony is that were it not for renters, these types of corporations – the Blackrocks of the world; the small time property management companies and commercial investors; the realtors that are in the rental game too; and, single or limited individuals that have a extra property they do not need to use personally, so use it to help fund their retirements, vacations, or… whatever…

… well while they’re of the opinion that they’re doing renters a favor, the reality is that none of their profit margins would exist were it not for renters paying them on the 1st of every damn month.

And that is, ultimately when you get down to it, the rub of it all: that landlords and tenants both think the other is what they themselves may very well be. Delinquent. Doing you a favor. Scum.

But as a renter, myself, who has neither the money nor the interest in owning a home in this country, and this economy, I have to side with the underdog on this. Landlords are absolute scum. Maybe it’s unfair to paint them all with the same brush, but then that’s what they’ve all done to us. Two can play at this game.

The Newsletter: Issue #11

Don’t you love how every time I say I’m going to try to get back into writing the newsletter every week, and then I – like – say I’m going to really and truly hold myself accountable “this time,” I then disappear on the newsletter-front for about a month? Or more? Every time?

Well anyway…

Around the World

So how about that monkeypox?

What an absolute shit show this world is. We have Russia continuing to hedge the world closer and closer to World War 3, an ongoing SARS2 pandemic that is just being made worse by incompetent public officials and capitalist governments, Roe is about to be overturned, and now we have monkeypox, aka mini small pox.

So if you aren’t following BNO Newsroom on Twitter yet, I highly recommend you do so. They post about a number of news items, including a tracker on COVID and now, I guess, monkeypox. What’s so scary about monkeypox I think is actually that it’s spread much more widely and rapidly than in previous outbreaks, which implies that something about it, or us, may have changed; and the fact that its closest relative in small pox can spread 9 miles through the air. While they know what to do, how to deal with it that is… I think the trauma response from the last two years of absolute clusterfuck that’s been COVID is just rearing its head.

Know how to deal with it, or not, I just have no interest.

Beyond pandemic disease, the ongoing climate crisis (which I, personally, believe the pandemic disease stuff is a part of), and all the other shit going on (war, economy, gas prices… you know…), it’s election season. If you’re in California, it’s time to get your ballots in. And while I don’t know the schedules of all the other states, I do know you need to vote, even if it’s just writing yourself in because practically everyone else in public office or politics right now is a piece of shit.

(There, I said it. Someone had to. And yes, I wrote myself in on at least one spot of my ballot.)

What’s interesting about the primary election is that it’s happening as COVID is surging, and so – like it or not – I think this is profoundly impacting both people’s votes, and pandemic policy.

As we see cases of COVID in SoCal, and hospitalizations along with them, rise rapidly, officials still hold their trigger fingers on bringing masks back – even in notoriously mask-friendly Los Angeles. Personally, I understand keeping them off in places like movie theaters and restaurants – those are totally optional entertainment venues, risk takers beware.

But now it’s spread (that mask-free life, I mean) to pharmacies, grocery stores, and doctors offices, which is just insane. People don’t have a choice to stay away from them, so of all the places we should have masks it’s there. And yet, we have no policy, which makes me believe that the election is – once again – swaying health policy. In the words (or word) of Donald Trump: SAD!

Apparently at least a few people agree with me; late last night I posted a Twitter poll and almost all respondents believed that the election is at least partially influencing mask policy.

Around My World

Welp, we’ve been looking for a new place to move to. Again. I know, I know. We just moved, but we know how to get out of our lease easily, and legally; and so we’ve been looking for a new spot back home and out of this remarkably bad, potentially dangerous, situation.

The whole experience of finding a rental in California is so strange. On one hand, 45% of Californians rent, and so you would think that there would be some basic understanding that renters are people too. In my county, this constitutes roughly 400,000 people – that’s no small number of people, and they rent for a variety of reasons, including convenience.

Yet still, you come across so many people that consider renters to just be the absolute scum of the Earth, which is rich when you consider the fact that if it weren’t for that so-called scum, landlords would not have so much extra money from which to avail their own lifestyles.

There is then, of course, the whole matter of going to look at places, only to be confronted with the conditions that they present.

Earlier in the week, we visited a house that was literally crumbling apart. I mean the wall was crumbling to the ground during the viewing. The owner had marked the price so ridiculously high for the amount of square footage she was offering, and admitted in the course of the tour that she was simply trying to recoup her expenses from repairs she had to do before renting it out.

That’s not… how it works…

Then yesterday, we visited a home that was being rented out by a property management company. The home was previously being rented by a couple of real estate agents that had moved to the area and rented while purchasing their own home; they said they were moving out in the middle of July.

So we showed up for the open viewing, which meant about 10 other people showed up as well. We all waited and waited, for no one to be there. Someone finally called the property management company and – apparently – the realtor that had been living there had agreed to show the home. Well she wasn’t there, so she lied; so this man from the management company came over to let everyone (that remained) in.

I’m surprised anyone could get in the front door.

This. House. Was. Trashed. We are talking garbage all over the floor, on the counters. A white board piled on top of their kid’s highchair. Counters covered in products; laundry baskets everywhere, Target bags all over the floor. It looked like a literal tornado had come through the room.

While I completely and 100% respect the struggle of a family with young kids, if you’re a realtor yourself and you (a) do not show up when you say you will, and (b) leave the house in a literally unshowable condition, you’re a dick. You’ve treated your peer in the field (the property manager) and his clients with total disrespect. And you’ve made it nearly impossible for prospective renters to actually see the condition of the home (upon further reflection, I really wonder if that was the point).

It’s also a violation of a standard lease in California. I went back and looked at our last two leases: both state quite clearly that in the last 30 days before moving out, you agree to have the home available and in a clean condition for viewing.

Again, I sympathize with being a busy parent, but that’s not what was going on here, and for us it made it difficult to even assess if the home would work. Many people walked in, saw the mess, and just walked out.

We have some furniture that requires space, so we needed to be able to measure a couple of spaces to make sure it would all fit. There were rooms we could not even get in to. The doors would not open. How could we possibly make the call to take that rental under those conditions? Surely someone will accept that kind of shit, just as in the case with the crumbling home from earlier in the week; but just because someone will does not make it right to expect them to. And that fails, on top of everything else, to recognize that you are responsible for the condition of the home, even if you’ve accepted it as is. This is to say that as a renter, if the house is crumbling, you take responsibility for that – including, when it comes time to return your security deposit.

I think this speaks to a bigger issue: of thinking of renters as people that should just take whatever they can get. When I posted about it on Facebook, naturally several people came after me and said that the mess was not an issue, that I should be more sympathetic (I deleted the post shortly after putting it up, because – honestly – I just did not want to hear about how many people in my personal life are cool with professionals disrespecting each other, and treating renters like they don’t deserve to actually inspect a home they are planning to spend a significant chunk of their lives in). What about sympathy for renters that need to check the home though; for the ones that came to that showing today having taken time off work (there were at least two, that I could tell)?

Perhaps a bigger issue: why is it that we have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even when the facts tell us that in this instance we should not?

The only thing that will resolve this is hard and fast legislation and public policy that develops more housing to address both the needs and rights of the middle and working classes. Until then, it’s Target bags, and crumbling walls. If your furniture doesn’t fit, or the trash was covering holes in the floor… well you’re SOL.

You Can’t Unsee This

Today my kids were making collages with this amazing collage book my 14 year old has, and I decided to grab all the election mail trash I received and make my own. It sums up well what I think of most of our local electeds and politicians.

It’s called “Welcome to the Nothing Will Ever Chance Circus: Sorry About the Dilapidated Tent, In This Economy It’s All We Could Afford” The cost of admission to the circus is a $50 campaign contribution, and a blood oath to Big Oil. There are several candidates featured, one has a bright red clown nose, one has a number of supporters that are racist so I made his head pointy and have him saying “My head is as pointy as my supporters’ white hoods.”

In the foreground is our State Assemblywoman. She’s a real thorn in my side, because in 2020 when I ran for city council, she – a Democratic woman – endorsed my opponent – a misogynistic Trump Republican – and even sent out mailers against me – also a Democratic woman. At a candidate’s event she and I were both in attendance, she made perhaps the stupidest comment I have ever heard a candidate make, so I immortalized it in my collage. She says “At the 2020 Islamic Center candidate forum, I was asked what I would do for the Muslim community of Ventura County if re-elected. I didn’t plan to do anything, so I responded “I enjoy your food.””

True story.

STFU Fridays

I don’t have many to say shut the fuck up to this week, but I do still have one in me for a handful of the people that had the audacity over the last couple of days to tell me that candidates should not be judged by their donors.

Only an insipid clown in the show at the Nothing Will Ever Change Circus would think that campaign finance does not have a direct correlation to what a candidate goes on to do, or more often not do, while in office.

To them, I say shut the fuck up. Real hard.

And for the rest of you, if you happen to be local to me, this was in response to a voter guide I posted just outlining some of the highlights from the local races and their campaign finance reports. I don’t usually post these kinds of hyper-local things on this blog, but it seemed an important election to do so. If you fall in that group, you can find that HERE.

Have a good weekend everyone. Rest up, you just don’t know what’s up next in the roller coaster that is 2022.

Unhoused

I remember it like it was yesterday. My kids were at a tennis clinic at one of the local clubs. They had played there for years; and while we never joined as members, the club was making a cool $650 a month from us in lessons, clinics, and other fees, spread out between my two, oldest kids. 

Two, older gentlemen walked out of the clubhouse, and found a seat to watch their grandkids play in the clinic. I continued to sit there, reading my book while I waited for my girls; but immediately got distracted when one of them took a phone call, and afterwards said “well, that was one of my renters …his roommate moved out and he needs help finding a new one to cover all the costs. He’s been good to the place, so I’ll help him until then. He’s not like the others.”

“Oh, don’t get me started on renters. We just had to evict an old bitch after learning she had filed for bankruptcy,” the other man said to him. 

“She keep paying?”

“Yeah but you know we don’t want those problems. You know renters. They’re all scum.”

Renter Scum

As of 2019, just over 45% of Californians identified as either renters or homeless. This group – representing nearly half of all Californians in a state of nearly 40 million people – is seen by at least a fair number of the other half as “all scum.”

A renter myself, I’ve seen it – the so-called scum – over the years; the vast majority have been people like us – young, middle class families with not a large enough income, or interest (or, in our case: both) to buy. Others among the lower class: seniors on a fixed income, people that fell down on their luck or who never had luck to begin with. Naturally there are the occasional bad renters  you hear about – that trash the apartment, leaving holes in the walls and meth in the carpets. But for every bad renter story I’ve heard or seen, I’ve come across probably ten times as many who were just average people, trying to get by.

To be honest, in my 20 years as a renter, I can actually only think of one renter I knew of that I would call “bad.” On the contrary, it’s usually the landlords that are the bad ones.

A friend of mine, whose name would be best not to share for fear of retaliation to her, has run the gamut of horrific renter stories over the years. This isn’t to say she, as a landlord, had terrible renters; it’s in her own experiences renting from others that have been the stuff of nightmares. As recently as last Thanksgiving, she told me about her landlord refusing to allow her to use the kitchen in the home in which she rents a room. Today, she tells me it’s been months since she’s been allowed to use the kitchen. Her landlord routinely bullies her, makes fun of her with other family members to her face; and on at least one occasion has had the rent arbitrarily raised mid-term, in spite of an existing and legally enforceable verbal contract.

In my own recent experience as a renter, we’ve had our own fair share of being treated like “renter scum.” Most often, it’s been at the hands of predatory property management companies – like the one we just left; or by slumlord owners that believe they have no obligation to provide a livable environment. Between the last two homes we have lived in (the one we just left, and the one we live in now) we have had untreated rats in the attic, an oven that did not work for a whopping 3&1/2 months, sewage spraying out of the toilet and into my 5 year old’s mouth, faulty electrical wiring leaving us with less than 50% of working electricity in the house for more than a week, and a psychotic neighbor banging on our door in the middle of the day, screaming that my children need to stop playing in their own home.

Of course some will say this comes with the territory of renting, whereas I always thought of renting as being us paying more for the luxury of not having to deal with maintenance and the like. I suppose I was wrong, just as I was incorrect of the old-time idea that you could rent a home and if you treated it well, took care of it as if it was your own, the landlord would let you stay indefinitely – something I learned this year when our lease was terminated so the owner could sell the home while the housing market remained hot. And even under this care and love we treated the home with, we were still treated and considered no better than this colloquially false narrative that all renters are scum.

As you do with so-called scum, the landlord gave us the boot this January, rejecting requests for us to stay through the school year for our kids to remain in the school district; then effectively stole our entire security deposit along nefarious accusations and claims really meant to grift and profit as much as they could from us until the bitter end.

It became clear to me that we were not getting our deposit back when they accused us of stealing our own refrigerator (they had forgotten that the home rented did not come with one). As if this were not enough, we were then expected to repair minor cosmetic issues that fell under standard “wear and tear” clauses of California tenant protection laws. Minor scuffs to the floor boards, and regrouting due to the discoloration that comes with a home over 30 years old, was referred to as “abuse.” They charged us twice for cleaning the same areas. Then, they expected us to pay for major renovations to issues that pre-existed our tenancy, to make the home sellable for a higher price.

The most egregious issue – as if accusing us of stealing our own refrigerator was not bad enough – was the laundry closet. The closet, which was situated between the door from the garage to the home and the half bathroom, needed major renovations to make the house ready to sell. This had nothing to do with us; as I said, it was an issue that pre-existed our tenancy, and which we lived with for all those years. The washer and dryer that the landlord had put in prior to us moving in – back in 2016 – were just too large for the closet. Quickly this was discovered when the gas line broke because of this miscalculation in size, and toxic gas and exhaust leaked into the house – threatening to kill my family of 6 (myself, my husband, my elderly father, and our three children). The immediate response at the time by the landlord was to repair the exhaust pipes and gas line, and to then remove the doors from the closet. We put up a nice curtain, and lived with this situation for more than 5 years, only for the landlord to then expect us to pay to completely re-design the laundry room and plumbing so the doors could be put back on for the sale of the home after we left. 

And what recourse did we have to any of this in the end? Hire an attorney with all that savings we were forced to spend to move? Take them to small claims court, full knowing that the landlord was a retired attorney himself? As most renters do, we cut our losses and figured there’s little we can do.

This class war in California between renters and owners has developed into a crisis of apocalyptic proportions. It is like the Battle for Helm’s deep in Lord of the Rings: on one side are the unrelenting and opportunistic orcs (slumlords); on the other, everything that comprises Middle Earth (renters – the middle and working classes) just living their lives, many there for different reasons, being attacked. The pejorative attitude that anyone not in the position of owning a home is scum is so pervasive to our culture and our leadership, that it’s made its way into public policy, profoundly impacting markets, cost of living, quality of life, and a host of other issues – including homelessness. This is to say that, as I see it, homelessness is not as simple as someone being sick or an addict, rather the unhoused are a nuanced group of people that have little to no control over their living situation, even in the best of circumstances.

The Truly Unhoused

Unhoused is a term now frequently used to describe people that are experiencing homelessness in an effort to be more sensitive to a group of people that find themselves on the streets, in encampments, in shelters, or in their minivans. And yet, it is worth considering, that anyone not owning a home in California (or anywhere, for that matter) is – at least technically – unhoused, or on the verge of being so.

One of those was in the case of a local journalist – local to my community – who, only after he moved across the country, made public the fact that the cost of living, coupled with the stagnant wages and grim conditions of local journalism, led him to choose to live in his Ford Econoline 250 for two years. In this poignant and brutally honest piece, he says: “I’m one of the thousands of people who have responded to the challenge of living in 21st century America by choosing to become houseless;” and this is where the nuance of dealing with homelessness, and the class war between owners and landlords, must recognize that the issue is not solely one of mental illness or addiction, or of all renters being scum.

And in fact, one study out of Los Angeles – the epicenter of California’s homelessness crisis – found that roughly 30% of people living on the streets were suffering from serious mental illness or addiction. And while this figure is striking, and creates a call to action for leaders across the state that is quickly looking to become this year’s hot button election issue, it largely perpetuates a co-narrative to “renters are all scum,” that being that “homeless are all mentally ill.”

But what about that 70%?

Made up of people like the journalist mentioned above, Ian Bradley; hundreds of thousands of seniors couch-surfing while waiting on years-long Section 8 waiting lists, people that simply fell down on their luck over the years, and so on…the list of nuance that makes up that 70% is long. And yet when we see people living out of a tent, or a trailer, we immediately peg them as sick, when the truth is: it is our social structure, dirty politics, and unchecked capitalism, that is the problem.

The Money

Of course everyone knows that California’s cost of living is exponentially higher than most other areas of the country, but – again – the nuance of it is what largely goes unseen.

This is because what makes the cost of living so difficult in the state is that (1) wages have not kept up with increases in cost of living, causing more Californians to fall into poverty now than at any other point in California’s history, (2) supply and demand of housing have been bottlenecked by special interests and paid-off local elected officials, and (3) opportunistic slumlords have been allowed to abuse tenants for far too long, making it virtually impossible for tenants to ever better themselves, always finding themselves stuck in the cycle of moving expenses and lost security deposits.

Cal Matters reported last year that roughly 7.1 million Californians are now living in poverty as a direct result of the cost of living. This is a staggering 18% of the state’s population, and it has certainly only worsened through the course of the ongoing pandemic. To make matters worse, 56% of Californians spend more than half their paychecks on rent, alone; with the average housing price in the state coming in at 7 times what the average resident of the state earns.

Simply put, the cost of living has far outpaced in growth the average incomes in California. The state has the highest level of poverty in the nation, and the second-highest level of homelessness; both of these figures, though, are attenuated to wages as compared to cost of living. This is to say that while incomes are generally higher in California, because living costs disproportionately more, poverty is a condition presented to a far larger group of people simply because everything costs so much. 

Pre-pandemic, roughly one-third of Californians lived at or below the poverty line. Today, more than one-third of Californians make $15 an hour or less – a wage that may seem high to people in other parts of the country, though is abysmal when considering that our cost of living is between 4 and 12% higher than any other state in the nation. In my own county, ranked as one of the least affordable rental markets in California, renting a two bedroom apartment comes in averaging $38/hour, meaning that a minimum of 2.8 jobs is required to just meet that need. The city from which I just moved? The average job makes minimum wage, while the average home price now tops $800,000.

Wages of course haven’t done anything to impact the housing market. The rising cost of living is no problem for people that have the security of a fixed mortgage, or an investment that pays for itself. With 55% of Californians owning at least one home, the rest are owned by private investors, property management companies, and big corporations looking to make money off the misfortunes of others. Home owners and investors, alike, have only made the problem worse by playing games flipping homes for profit, while at the same time influencing public policy to shackle developments from driving down rents by creating a more competitive market for renters.

Just over half the state making life increasingly more difficult for the other half.

And again, the pandemic only accentuated this problem, with the working class suffering catastrophic wage losses, household wage earners dying from COVID, and upper-middle and upper class workers fanning out away from urban areas, gobbling up properties with their newfound ability to work remotely. And yet policy has not effectively caught up with this apocalyptic crisis at the speed with which it needs to fix the problem. 

California’s Housing Apocalypse

As many have astutely pointed out: California is not in a housing crisis, we are in a housing apocalypse. The issue is not as simple as one issue, it is many. While many reporters have argued against conflating them all, I argue that conflation of them is critical to understand how they beget each other, and how it has reached apocalyptic proportions. More than 150,000 unhoused individuals living in tents on sidewalks is in large part due to the general unavailability of adequate housing per capita. Similarly, the cyclical de-evolution of millions of Californians falling into dire straights and eventual poverty is a result of the unmediated cost of living, stagnant wage policy, and a predatory property management and real estate market.

My friend Jordon, over at the 805UncensoredPodcast – a renter himself – is more optimistic than I am on solutions to this catastrophe, which he acknowledges average voters probably are not very well versed on. Among his most promising ideas to at least partially solve the crisis is that California, or its municipalities, universally adopt a UBI, or Universal Basic Income. Some cities in the state have already started pilot programs like this, and it’s worth considering that the Child Tax Credit in 2021 was something of a UBI – all of which irrefutably proved successful in lifting people out of poverty to give them the means to then address their own, personal housing challenges. And yet, special interests and petty politics has all-but destroyed the promises those 2021 programs offered.

Another solution Jordon and I discussed recently was the YIMBY-California group’s advocacy towards a massive influx of new housing being the solution to the crisis. Another couple friends, Max, Jackson, and Rebecca, over at my local branch of YIMBY have been staunch advocates of massive housing builds around our county, and in fact the group endorsed my candidacy for city council. So I was already familiar with their mission when our own tenancy was terminated, at which time I learned first hand just to what extent housing is urgently needed, and yet at the same time criminally being bottlenecked by local politicians and homeowners.

Around the time we started looking, California State Senator Scott Wiener posted a graphic to Twitter citing Ventura County (the county in which I live) as the second worst county in California for seeking a rental, with 1 unit listed for every 1,358 families. Within days of looking, the aspect of competition became evident, as did the fact that many landlords were taking things into their own hands – legal, or not; including encouraging deposit bidding wars and outright discrimination. For some properties, we found ourselves competing against 40 or 50 other families, and people offering 6 times the legal limit in a security deposit. On this, we could not compete.  

Of course my friends over at YIMBY, like Jordon at 805UncensoredPodcast, are far more optimistic than I am on legislative and policy decisions solving the housing unit availability issue.

For my own part, I again boil this down to election reform, including in the area of campaign finance. In my own election, when I broke down my opponent’s largest donors, they were largely made up of property managers, realtors, and landlords. These are the people that are driving public policy at the most local level, which impacts our lives in the immediate term. Of course those entities are going to want local politicians to bottleneck and slow walk developments – it keeps them in the position to subjugate the renter class, and profit off the misfortunes of the 45%. Even when the state steps in with legislation like 2021’s SB8 and 9, unchecked and corrupt local politicians are still able to shackle those statewide policies with local moratoriums – something that happened in the city from which I just moved, and which directly contributed to the personal housing crisis my family is in today.

Whatever the solution, or solutions, ultimately may be in the end, it is a matter of fact that the problem is to the extent of apocalyptic proportions. And what do we know about an apocalypse more than the fact that it is the utter end, the total destruction, the denouement of society as we know it? Some argue that American society is falling apart because of partisanship, terrorism, the pandemic… I believe it’s actually in California’s Housing Apocalypse that the end is nigh. The unhoused in California is a broad group of many people, in many situations and living under many different types of roofs; and the situation for them is unsustainable. When it crumbles, the ripple around the country will be unavoidable.

So We’re In a New Home. A Rental Home.

After the traumatic experience my family of 6 has lived through over these last few months, I hesitate to call anything a “home” anymore. More than 5 years into making our place in Camarillo our home, our landlord decided to “go in another direction,” after spending years calling us the best renters they’d ever had. We are renters by both choice and necessity, so I guess this sort-of comes with the territory; but prior to now I lived in a world (in my head) where people didn’t do things like this to good, hardworking families.

Lesson learned. More on all of that later.

So we’re in a new home. A rental home. The sad part is that we’ve had to move our kids to another city, out of their element and community. That was the only community any of them had ever known – we lived in apartments, townhomes, and the single family home we just left over the years. Our kids have done school, sports, and all of their social lives there; friends and family. When our landlord terminated our tenancy at the same time landlords all over California were doing the same thing to flip their investments (1 listing for every 1,358 middle income families looking in my county), in many ways they threatened to destroy our family.

But it’s close enough that we can still drive it daily, and remembering that these situations are actually not as permanent as we would have liked them to be, it is likely we’ll be heading back in a year or two anyway.

Some photos and important points:

So we have French doors now, which is cool. That’s always been a life goal of mine and made moving in a little easier. We also have a whole host of animals that hang out in our yard, including a number of Dark-eyed Juncos and a dove. Both have nests (the Dark-eyed Junco moved his to the wreath on our front door).

This is the thing about where we live now: it’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere. We’re in an unincorporated middle ground between two cities, with a lot of open space around us, golf courses, and just up the hill from our house you can see the Reagan Library glowing at night (the driveway to go up to it is directly across the street from our house).

We lost a lot of backyard space, which is unfortunate because my 5 year old has very little room to run out his energy. Couple that with the fact that the community is gated, and in an HOA (read: they want children to be seen and not heard around here)… well, I’m going to have to come up with some solutions to that pretty soon here.

But, the owner of the house told my oldest daughter that she could do whatever she’d like with the back, and we also gained a courtyard in the middle of the entire house, so I think it all evens out in the end.

Of course the kids now have the coolest room, something I worked incredibly hard at ensuring to make the unexpected move (and all the stress and trauma that came with it) more tolerable for them. The house also has all new appliances, new flooring, fresh paint… it really was move in ready.

It’s just new and unfamiliar still, and away from our community. This, in the end, makes it hard for all of us. Right house, wrong ‘hood I think.

Probably what will drive us out sooner than later are the values of the community. We are in an ultra-conservative area, so much so that this sign is on my neighbor’s lawn.

The same day that we discovered this abhorrent sign, the person living on the other side of the duplex rang our doorbell at 11:15 at night because she heard us doing dishes through the wall. Our house was almost all asleep at that point, making this a little crazy; but I suppose I should have expected it, because the first day we moved in weeks ago she came over, introduced herself, and asked if we’re “generally quiet people.”

So we’re just over here getting settled, tending to our mental health amidst all this chaos, getting used to the neighborhood, and trying to keep our heads level so that we can plot a way forward.

And like I said… more on what brought us here later.

Screw Yourself Sideways, Spring Cleaning

I’ve been spring cleaning for about a week.

At first it was as it always is – like a new boyfriend. I was excited. My heart a’fluttered at the thought of trashing some of the crap we have and never use. The first night I couldn’t even get to sleep – the wheels in my brain were just turning and turning and turning over all the things I wanted to do.

Now spring cleaning and I have reached a parting of ways. It’s been a week (so, also much like a new boyfriend). I’m tired of having headaches from all the dust allergens flying around. There’s stuff. Everywhere. And for some reason I can’t get rid of this nagging feeling that I got rid of something I shouldn’t have.

Or is it that I didn’t get rid of enough?

Day 1

My Husband will rue the day he married this de-cluttering queen.

6496_522876140413_4968011_nWhen my husband and I first moved in with each other, I learned how much of a hoarder he really was. Is. Will have to get over.

We were unpacking stuff and he opened this big crate and dumped out a bunch of wires. The first thing I should have picked up on was that we didn’t really need any wires for anything we were doing, he just wanted to sort through his wire collection.

Pause a moment. Wire collection.

I asked what they were for and he said “in case I ever need them.” He thought it was funny. By contrast, I thought it was horrifying so I popped Xanax after Xanax because I was beginning to realize what I had gotten myself into.

We have gotten rid of a total of three of my husband’s things in the entire time I have known him. A bedside fountain that didn’t work. An African-looking knick knack that had rusted and cut me more than twice. And a ripped pair of sheets. A few years ago, my husband was given hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of clothing by his parents for Christmas. He got rid of two t-shirts to “make room.”

When I started spring cleaning last week, I realized that I just could not take all of his clutter anymore. If he wasn’t going to get rid of it, in fairness he had to find a better place to store it than on the floor next to our bed, or in areas of the closet that should be for me. I am the woman in the house, aren’t I?

Our conversation went like this:

Me: “We have got to start de-cluttering this place, Nick. I have to be here all the time, unlike you – it is making me feel sick and unsettled to have so much crap around all the time. Plus, it’s like some of this stuff is just here for me to clean. I have never actually seen you play those two guitars sitting propped against the wall over there. And the amp and pedal board that sits next to our bed – not a once. Ever.”

Nick: [Look of panic] “I don’t know what you are talking about. I also don’t even know why you care that there is clutter all over the place. I let you put away the Lord of the Rings cup that I used to like having displayed. How much more do I have to give up?”

Me: [Ignoring the look of panic, as well as the blatant stupidity] “OK, well if that is how you are going to be, I’m just going to do it myself and you can deal with it…”

Nick: Fine.

Nick is right. He let me put away the Lord of the Rings cup. By “let” of course we are all of the understanding that he had no choice. I love the Lord of the Rings movies; The Hobbit was my favorite book growing up. But there is no room for Frodo Baggins in my home decor.

Day 2

The bedroom and the kitchen. I figured I would start at one end of the apartment and move my way out.

To start, I wanted to pack as much of my husband’s guitar equipment into his side of the closet. Of course to do this, I had to start going through his side of the closet and getting rid of crap. Papers. Wire collection. Pussy Master 3000.

Wait, what?

You heard me right, faithful blog followers. I found the drawer full of gag gifts. Some of them I do remember as gifts – possibly gag, possibly serious (I never know with some of my friends). Lubricants. Handcuffs. Things never used, of course. Then there was something my husband consistently insists was a gag gift, although the details of said gift have never been disclosed.

Pussy Master 3000. Lubricant included. As the packaging goes, it’s for the guy who is sick of just using lotion, but needs an artificial vagina for those lonely nights while the wife is away. Fortunately it was still in the bag.

I moved into the kitchen after the Pussy Master and did a little purging and organizing. Then it was time to call it a day.

Day 3

Can’t deal with this spring cleaning shit. Let’s go to the mall.

Day 4

Can’t deal with this spring cleaning shit. Let’s go to my dad’s and mooch food.

Day 5

Oh shit, how am I going to finish spring cleaning in time for the Super Bowl party?! Super Bowl party … Super Bowl party … Let’s shop all day to get stuff for the Super Bowl party.

Day 6

Got my period. There is shit everywhere in my house now. I haven’t dusted in over a week. There is some gelatenous goo forming on the kitchen floor. I need tampons. Better to go get those and hang out at my dad’s house. It’s nice and tidy there.

Day 7 – Today

Screw yourself sideways, spring cleaning. It’s now just a few days away from the Super Bowl and we’re packing about 16 people into our tiny apartment. There’s a bowl, books, stickers, an open package of graham crackers, and a broken Dora the Explorer talking backpack occasionally splurting out “back pack back pack” on the living room coffee table. On the kitchen table is a pile of cleaning supplies, another book, a party bag full of Super Bowl-themed party stuff, and a package of Puffs tissues. I didn’t even bother to put the boxes of kleenex around the house and the extras away. Better to just pull the kleenex directly out of the package, left half-opened on the table.

9401It’s time to get away from this spring cleaning nonsense. I need to just put away all this crap and move on with my life. I discovered a bruise on my leg this morning while getting ready. It probably got there from the hundreds of times I’ve run into all the shit lying around here over the past week of “spring cleaning;” nonetheless, it reminded me that I’m a princess and don’t like scrapes and bruises showing up on my delicate skin. Pussy Master 3000 and Frodo Baggins will have to be it for now. Until next spring…