My husband stood at the curb, exchanging harsh words and glares with our former landlord. As they inched closer, this man blurted out a half truth. He said, “you’ll never rent in this city again.”
This was nearly three years ago. He could have been right. If things were slightly different, we’d still be living in a homeless shelter or overpaying to live in someone’s illegal basement, far from any commutable train station. Even that would have been rare.
I only know this because I got rejected by someone trying to rent their illegal basement every week for nearly five months. As much as I was willing to take the risk of living in a questionable basement, there was always someone else willing to take it, too. Someone who could prove they made more money or had a higher credit score. More importantly, someone who wasn’t homeless. Maybe they were just better at hiding their homelessness or lying about their rental history. Why else would you be trying to overpay for a stranger’s illegal basement?
Eventually, I also started to hide and lie about my homelessness. I constructed a false story that would somehow fool and perhaps even take advantage of the person who was probably trying to fool and take advantage of me.
Needless to say, I’m not a big fan of landlords.
Somehow we got lucky. Lucky enough to be sheltered, feel safe, and trust the person who provides a roof over our heads today. Lucky enough to have all those things so I can finally write about it.
One afternoon, my social worker handed me a pile of applications.
These applications were for apartments where formerly homeless people could live. They were also apartments more like to accept formerly homeless people. Most importantly, these apartments accepted a variety of housing vouchers that poor, homeless, and formerly homeless people tend to have. The catch is the waiting lists are very long – years long, in fact.
This is often the only realistic route out of a homeless shelter. It’s the case for employed people who don’t make enough money to support themselves. This is also the case for chronically homeless people and those who were previously evicted.
All these components that lead to homelessness (and these are just a few), are the same ones that keep you homeless. So, you wait in line. You wait for your turn. You put your name on that list. And you stay patient. Of course, as you wait in line, the shelters continue to fill. And the lines get longer.
My social worker was surprised when I told him I wanted to try something else. I was miserable. All the progress I had made up until that point in my life was disintegrating in front of my eyes. I didn’t want to wait another year. I was in my 20s and I was missing it. Bitter, I was willing to do anything to get out.
I wanted to find a broker. He said it wouldn’t be easy. I said I knew that. But there’s got to be someone who needs that commission as much as we needed a place to live.
That’s when I met Jay.
He wasn’t even interested in the money. I told Jay everything. Every little detail – more details than I could ever fit in this post. And we probably changed each other’s lives in those five months we worked together. How couldn’t we? I owe him everything.
Jay was my broker, and he was crazy and amazing to take on such an impossible task. What a terrible idea he had! To help a young homeless couple with tons of student debt and bad credit. We had an eviction on our record, we were fairly difficult, angry and distrusting in general. Yet he helped us find an apartment in a city of landlords whom hate the epitome of us.
We were a hell of a team. Between my cunning nature, my husband’s charm and Jay’s charisma, we hit every borough, neighborhood, basement, co-op, walk-up, and took every elevator to the third floor. Even when we felt like giving up, thought there was no hope left, Jay simply wouldn’t have it. He consoled us and didn’t give up. He never gave up on us.
Eventually, we ran into Rose. She is the kindest, sweetest woman I have ever met in my entire life next to my own mother. And she is my landlord now. She brings cookies, and there’s a skylight in our bathroom, and she replaced our microwave – twice. And our neighbor fixed the toilet and snaked the tub. I can smell the Atlantic come through my living-room window, and the backyard is so green and overgrown. The sun hits the walls perfectly, and I still cry at the kitchen table, and I wonder. I just wonder if I deserve it.
I convince myself that I do every day.