I was reading through my old hard drive to see what I might be able to delete. I came across an essay I wrote a few years ago for entrance into an online college, and I was immediately struck by how similar it was to what I went through recently. It completely validates the old axiom about the things staying the same, no matter how they appear to change. I am posting the essay below, newly edited (Boy howdy was my editing slipshod back then!), with my updated observations in parenthesis. This reminded me not only as of how elusive adequate, affordable housing is, but of how easily good intentions go out the windows on short notice.
That I was going to have to be more honest and upfront about my rental history occurred to me around one year into looking for another apartment. I knew I had been evicted before, and more than once. On every rental application, there is a box to check if you have ever been the subject of an unlawful detainer lawsuit. An Unlawful Detainer is the legal term for an eviction, and I had a few of them in my background. I didn't know that these types of entries into your credit report remained for 7 years. I also didn't know that landlords, apartment owners and property management firms could get this information for free, while charging me anywhere from $25 to $35 for the privilege of telling me that since I had been evicted, and therefore they couldn't rent to me. The more your credit history is requested the lower your credit score becomes, and after four years, nearly $300 in application fees, and nearly a 100 point drop in my credit score, I finally figured out that I should tell the owner or landlord that I had been evicted before any money changed hands. This allowed me find out early on whether or not I would be a serious candidate for tenancy. Eventually, using this tactic saved me roughly $100, and actually led me to getting the apartment I have now, so I guess it was an effective strategy. (Unless of course you are dealing with a VERY recent eviction. In that case discretion in the better part of valor.)
The stability and adequate income issues were all neatly solved when I started working for the City, my current employer. Until, I started working for the City, I had been a “temp”, which is to say I was an independent contractor that received work form temporary agencies. Although I had done this for years, and the money was often more than adequate, the nature of temping long term, is that you are never sure when your contract was going to end. If you are a person that is looking for an apartment, and already have multiple evictions on your record, the appearance of instability is one you likely want to avoid. I felt blessed to have solved two problems with one job. (Yes and no. I am beginning to see that I can have either some place to live, or some way to get around. Even with a low level civil service job, it is VERY difficult to have any extras. The choices are heartbreaking if you are supporting anyone other than yourself.)
The getting a better handle on my household finances was a great deal harder than I first thought it would be. I understood from an early age that all important bills were paid first: rent, utilities, food. What led me to grievous financial issues, were the ill-advised purchase of a lemon, a used car that cost more to repair than the car’s actual value, and several ingrained bad habits that often used whatever disposable income I did have. The first part of this solution came in the form of a simple budget that was taught to me by a friend years ago. It involves listing your expenses in order from most to least, and comparing it against your income. The second part of this solution came from using all of the free budgeting tools offered by my bank. It took three years, but this method was so effective, it recently allowed me to purchase another car. (It becomes a choice: Annoy the crap out of everyone you know by always needing a ride for three people, or try to squeeze some sort of reliable transportation out of a tiny budget. I've realized that reliability was always going to be questionable. Either I was going to have a clunker with a lot of problems, or a very high car note.)
Achieving financial stability, in order to maintain housing stability was a challenge I wasn't expecting to face. I took it for granted that I would always have or easily be able to find another job or assignment, and that I would take care of my bills and responsibilities without issue. The last five years have been an education for me the likes of which I don’t think I would ever find in a classroom. And the kind I wouldn't wish on anybody else! (Nor was it a lesson that I expected to have to repeat. Or keep repeating for that matter.)
Not quite the way I, or anyone for that matter, wants to live. But so much where we are.