I haven’t posted on here in well over a month – not a matter of writer’s block or dearth of content, but the fact that we moved. Back home. Not to the home from which our landlords cruelly and callously terminated our lease at the beginning of the year (after years of dutifully paying rent monthly in full and on time, and taking prodigious care of their home as if it were our own). But a few blocks away.
In our temporary rental, nearly 45 minutes from the city my kids have always known, the situation went from bad to worse in such a rapid and bizarre fashion, for a brief moment amidst it all I legitimately believed I was going insane. There was just no way that conditions could be that bad there. We had mold, water leaks, floods, more mold, sagging floors, crazy neighbors, and – in the final hours – a family member of our landlord rifling through the mail. For one of our last weeks there, my children and I were displaced for an entire week due to a mold remediation. And in the last shower I took there, the floor began to sag, water came gushing from the ceiling beneath me into the garage on the first floor, and mold began to appear through the paint pealing off the walls.
When we terminated our lease prematurely, and provided a letter for the landlord citing a breach of warrant of habitability, the letter had 26 pages of attachments providing evidence. By any and all standards: it was bad.
Possibly in a moment that was serendipitous, but more realistically just sheer, dumb luck, a home became available in our price range, in our old neighborhood, while all of this was going on, and the rest is history. Now, we are unpacked and settled in. And just like that, I’m back home.
Much of the last few weeks has felt like putting the pieces of the puzzle of our lives back into place. When we moved away months ago, we had to significantly downsize; now with more space and almost an identical floor plan to our old home down the street, we’ve pieced it back together, all the while cognizant of everything that has happened. Our temporary rental had no real functioning kitchen to speak of, just a broken oven and about a foot of counter space to work on, so we’ve also caught up on eating at home. I feel more like myself today than I have since the day our lease was terminated – now 7 months ago; and my kids are finally letting down their guard, no longer afraid that something else would go wrong after months of seemingly every day having a problem.
And that’s the thing: this situation – being a comfortable, middle class family with the security of a roof over our heads, suddenly being thrust into insecure and unsafe housing during an unprecedented moment in history – well, it changed me, it changed us. I didn’t just find myself in the position of privilege to simply empathize with people struggling in the housing and rental crisis, I was forced to live it myself.
45% of Californians are renters, this nearly half the state has been subjugated into a class war that stereotypes them as unworthy, an undeserved other. Ironically, this group of people are the sole reason people in the landlording business are able to do so. A landlord’s livelihood is entirely dependent upon having tenants to pay the bills. And while I don’t typically like to turn things into a conspiratorial bigger plan, after living the consequences of insecure housing for several months, I understand now the bigger societal problems that are created by this wing of late stage capitalism run amuck.
Availability of Housing
When I ran for city council, something that struck me as odd was the fact that there was a clear and certain need for housing, but very few city council people seemed to have any real understanding of how urgent the need was. As time went on in my campaign, and afterwards, it became evident that they do understand. Their donors – largely property managers, realtors, and personal landlord investors – just have control of these local politician’s votes.
In my county, there is 1 housing unit for every 1,348 middle income families. This is on its own an astounding figure I myself did not think could be topped, until just this week when I learned that my county also has the most severe metro area housing shortage in the entire nation. The slow walk to development in my community is so profound and – frankly – unbelievable, until you consider that it is in their best interest to slow walk development, because this allows the prices to rise exponentially, unchecked.
So availability of housing is not an issue in a vacuum, rather it creates a backchannel of issues like housing affordability, temporary rental availability; it even has a negative impact on the tourism industry because of the number of hotels filled up with vagrants, and the simple fact that a tourist-centered community loses its appeal when every corner has someone homeless, someone pan-handling, or a car parked with a mattress on top of it and a person sitting inside shaving their armpits.
But to the people that own the politicians? The people in the real estate and landlording industry? They don’t care. With 1 unit for every 1,348 middle income families, and a housing market that sits at a median home price above $800,000, this is simply their opportunity to cash in. To be clear, this is the fault of every local politician of the last several decades – Democrat, Republican, Independent, you name it. Will they be held accountable? I find the prospect unlikely.
Conditions of Living
As I mentioned, our temporary rental was an absolute nightmare, and we were fortunate to have the ability and means to get out of it. Not everyone is as lucky, and at some point shortly before we moved I obtained a list of all the rentals our landlord owned.
To say I was shocked is an admission of my own naivety: one of the rentals had a Port a Potty outside, another had a tarp for a roof. I’m sure people that have rented from the slummiest of slumlords will sit and nod their heads in understanding, but for me this was an absolute dereliction of what I imagined such a profoundly small number of people could subject upon nearly half the state. Our landlord, himself, lived (lives) in a 4 million dollar mansion on a 23 acre farm, overlooking his peasants. I’m sure a working toilet and completed roof isn’t an issue for him; but being bathed in his own privilege does not excuse that he legitimately believes people should live without those things.
Even little things you don’t realize until you live in it become an issue when your conditions are reduced to semi or unlivable. As I mentioned, our kitchen was a broken oven and a one foot space of counter. At the time we rented the place, we had absolutely no other options; and I figured I could make it work. The reality, though, with a family of six, was that I could not, so it was take out most days, sometimes multiple times, and a lot of quick things that didn’t require the appliances or equipment we had to store, or the counter space needed to prepare.
In other words, for months, we ate like absolute shit. (While being exposed to toxic mold.)
We of course see this all over the country, with landlords providing substandard conditions for their tenants – mold, rot, unworkable appliances. But what isn’t often talked about as well are the conditions of the community that is predominately renter-based: roads in need of repair, no easy access to healthier food options, a lack of public transportation. Some states, including California, have requirements about affordable housing in proximity to big box stores; however these ineffective policies are easily skirted, and do not address how a community deals with the situation when politicians slash budgets for public transportation, or when stores close down due to new developments in other areas of the community.
But again: will anyone be held accountable? I find this unlikely.
The Class War Is Real
For now, the dust has settled and I’m plotting my next moves. Not housing moves, though; what I have to do about my community members who continue to suffer under this absolutely unfettered, hyper-localized, class war. While I thought that the Democrats and Joe Biden’s abject failures had radicalized me and my politics, I suppose I was not even remotely prepared for where this experience would take me. Perhaps most worthy of note is that this year, at 40 years old, my idealism about reform from within is finally gone. The only way I see this being fixed is for the entire system that perpetuates this to go along with it.
So where does that leave me? Well, I’m back home, and it’s an election year. Not a single thing will change if people do not start running for office that will rid our communities of the corruption that has infiltrated every level of government. But this again runs along the belief system that people can be elected and reform things from within. Can they? AOC faking handcuffs at a Roe rally, or Bernie kowtowing to the party line suggests otherwise. Maybe I’m wrong, but for now it seems that there has to be another way.
In local elections, it’s becoming harder and harder to find candidates anyway; nobody wants to run. Why would they? As a former candidate myself, you have to not just have a tough skin, but sometimes a bulletproof vest. If your personality isn’t in line with the identity politics of either the Left or the Right, you’re as good as a lost cause. Of course election reform could fix all of that, including comprehensive campaign finance reform; but then the people that would have to reform this will never do so because the system itself benefits them.
But I think it goes deeper than that. People aren’t just not interested in running because they aren’t interested. They’re too busy working and struggling to survive to do – literally – anything else.
In our temporary rental, it was profound how much time was spent just struggling to survive. Between the kitchen, the conditions, the health issues that started to crop up from the mold, or having a leak one day, a toilet back up the next day, and a flood in the backyard over the weekend, our time was consumed dealing with problems that people not in this subjugated living situation ever have to spend their time on.
This is the real point to the class war. It isn’t to keep people in their place. It isn’t to have people to pay your bills, and provide you your services. It isn’t to keep them sick and dependent, or hungry and available to work for low wages.
It’s to keep you so busy you can never change this system of capitalist oppression.
I’m sure, in the end, I’ll change my tune. At least that’s what family and friends say. Maybe I’m just spouting a tangent after arguably the most traumatic experience of my adult life (and that’s saying a lot). Or maybe I really did go insane and this is all some lunatic’s fantasy and ranting.
Whatever the case may be, this change of thinking was a long time coming. As I said, I’m now 40. It took four decades for my eyes to be opened to the real hardships that exist, in all our communities, and even so I still make jokes about it. But we all do, we all joke about the abject horror we are seeing in front of us – memes on Facebook about tyrant landlords, viral videos on Tik Tok about completely absurd living and working conditions. “Anger and humor are like the left and right arm. They complement each other. Anger empowers the poor to declare their uncompromising opposition to oppression, and humor prevents them from being consumed by their fury.”
I never considered myself poor, we are by all standards well off. But that didn’t stop us from living through what we lived through the last seven months, my family. So I guess even the definition of poor needs be revised. And I suppose the day to take it all seriously – the class war and the people most impacted by it – will be the day the jokes stop.
Anger empowers the poor to declare their uncompromising opposition to oppression. If there is one thing I feel when I think back to everything that has happened this year, it is a little flame of anger shrouded in disbelief that it actually happened. The days plug along and we grow further distant from that hellish situation, and the disbelief fades leaving just that tiny flame of anger and disgust for a system that is designed to harm.
And just like that, I’m back home. But who returned is wholly different and forever changed.