A place to call home--single mothers need not apply
I’ve spent most of the past few hours crying. Although I am pregnant, it has nothing to do with hormones and everything to do with my security. I received a distressing call from a potential landlord and I’m starting to worry. She is the third person I’ve tried to rent from in the past month or so who suddenly has a million reasons not to rent to me. I’m starting to feel like Mary carrying the baby Jesus and there’s no room at the inn. Will I ever be able to find a decent place to live for me and my baby?
I knew single parenthood would be hard, that is something I’ve been steeling myself up for since the day I learned I was expecting a baby this summer. It’s not like I haven’t been through hard times. This past year alone has been a spectacular trial. I feel like I’ve been doing time for crimes I never committed. I lost my full-time job last January and have struggled through most of the past year to make things work. Mostly, I’ve succeeded. I was late on my rent one time (for the first time in many years of renting, actually) and I didn’t always have it easy with my other bills, but finally, at the end of the year, I felt like my slate was being wiped clean. And to learn I was going to be a mother was a bonus to end all bonuses. I should not have thought for one moment that things would ever be easy.
In the span of a week, I learned about my pregnancy, landed a job (which I finally started this month) and settled a lawsuit for a small but impressive and handy sum. Suddenly, my life, which had been tenuous and unfocused before started to sharpen and make sense. Accepting my upcoming role as mother, I knew what needed to be done. I needed to find a place close to my new job so I could spend as much time as possible with my new baby. I also needed to make sure it was close enough to a good college so I could eventually return to school and build a future that was stable for me and my child. As my plans started to take shape, I started the hard work of making things happen. So far, however, it has been the biggest battle I’ve ever fought. Why can’t I find a safe, clean place to live that has what I need? Why does it have to be so hard?
It’s a hard knock life for us
I know from hard. I come from two poor parents who struggled most of my childhood to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. We always had what we needed, but not a whole lot more. While I often dreamed of what it would be like to have the money some of my friends’ families enjoyed, I knew my life was actually pretty good. My parents, though far from perfect, remained married to each other my entire life until my mother passed away. My father did remarry after her death, but he died, too, just five years after my mother. Many of my friends endured the trauma of divorce or parents who were too busy making money to spend time with them. I had two loving parents who always made time for me. I want nothing less for my child, too.
When I married in my early 20s, I hoped to build a family I could shower with love the way my parents loved me. My ex-husband had other plans. Kids were out of the question. Whenever I brought up the idea of starting a family, my husband insisted we adopt another cat instead. By the time we divorced, we had six cats. I could only bring one with me to my new place when I moved out to begin life as a single woman. My heart broke at the thought of having to leave behind the rest of my “babies,” but I had no choice. My husband was the only one of us who could afford the mortgage on our waterfront townhouse along with the yearly taxes and upkeep. After years of abuse, I simply needed a fresh start.
The tiny alley house I found just a few miles from my former home was far from perfect. The wood floors were full of small holes and splinters. The roof leaked in six places. I had no safe place to park. My landlord was a woman that owned several properties on the same block. She was mostly okay, except for a few of her fussier moments, like when she threw a fit over my getting cable television installed. She was concerned about the holes in her walls, but her other suggestions for getting Internet service and entertainment were no-less damaging. Eventually, she calmed down and we enjoyed an amicable relationship much of the time.
The brightest spot was having one of my best friends living right down the street, just a block away. I don’t know what I’d have done without Heather and her then-fiancé, Scott, but they made me feel less alone and scared. Eventually, they married and moved away. I stuck it out there another nine months. I would have stayed longer, but my air conditioning went out and my landlady was in no hurry to fix it, even though I have asthma and spent a few days in the hospital from the heat. When my lease was up, I carefully cleaned the place from top to bottom, even steam-cleaning her carpets which she was supposed to steam before I moved in but never did. The place actually sparkled and smelled great when I left. She said so herself. I prided myself on being an exemplary tenant who was never late on rent and respected another’s property as my own.
Moving on up
It was no different when I moved into the slightly more luxurious space I moved to next. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the recently converted mill-turned-apartments were one of the hottest addresses in Baltimore. I lucked into a deal due to the fact that I had a good job, good credit following a bankruptcy and good references.
I loved my large, loft-style apartment in the Clipper Mill section of Baltimore. Within a few months, the building filled up with a great assortment of tenants including one of the lead actors from the HBO series, “The Wire.” I enjoyed the friendships of the many people in the building, including Dominic West. We often joked that we lived at “Melrose Place” because we had a gorgeous, award-winning pool just outside our door and the place was populated with attractive, mostly-single residents ranging from 24 to 45. I’m still friends with all of my old neighbors.
Several months after moving in, I lost my high-paying job. The rent was $1,475 a month which did not include utilities. I struggled for months to survive on a meager unemployment check and some alimony from my divorce. I was ecstatic to eventually land a job, though not a great one, where my struggle could finally end. Then, just two weeks into my job, I tripped and fell face first into the corner of an office wall. One broken eye socket and several headaches later, I was forced to spend six weeks out of work waiting for my first workers compensation check to kick in. I had just signed up for another year’s lease.
As the bills mounted, I made sure to keep the roof over my head. I paid my rent on time every month, but I knew that very soon I’d be forced to pay late or not at all if I wanted to eat, too. Reluctantly, I realized I had no choice but to move to some place less swanky. I called the property manager to explain my situation. I gave her six weeks’ notice as I scrambled to find another place to live. She agreed to let me out of my new lease as long as I was out of my apartment by December 1st. Just as I’d done before, I took care to clean every surface of my old apartment as well as steam clean the carpets before I sad my sad goodbyes. I was out of there on schedule. A few months later, the leasing agency decided to sue me for one month’s rent, anyway. So much for trying to play by anyone’s rules.
The future is closer than you think
The place I moved to is the same place I live now. It’s been three years in this apartment and it troubles me to have to move at all. Not that it’s been my dream place, but moving is never fun. I have all the amenities I could want here, but with a new baby coming and my job nearly an hour away, it just doesn’t make sense to stay here anymore.
As soon as I learned I had my job, I started looking for a place closer to my office so I could have more time with my future baby. It was right in the middle of the holidays and looking for a place to live then is nothing short of a nightmare. I eventually placed an ad on Craig’s List hoping to find someone who was looking for a good, dependable renter. I was contacted by more spammers and con artists than I can count. Eventually, I did find a few places to check out and one man, a so-called rental agent, called. I figured it couldn’t hurt to use as many resources as possible.
The first place I checked out was a converted house turned into an apartment offered by a married couple just 10 years my senior. I have always prided myself on my honesty, so I let them know about my troubled financial history and upcoming pregnancy. I still had two more places to see when I got the chance to see their property and I let them know. Then, right after I decided to rent it, they decided to change their ad. It now said something about “adult occupants only.” I knew this meant only one thing: they didn’t want to deal with someone with a baby. So much for that.
The rental agent, a man named Mark, seemed promising. I let him know I was on a very tight budget. Knowing my current income from my new, part-time job and supplemental unemployment, I didn’t want to burden myself or anyone else with a place I couldn’t afford. Yet the one and only thing he presented me with, a very nice place, was about $200 more a month than I could afford. Still, he led me to believe I had a few days to think it over. When I finally decided I should take it, he informed me it was already rented out. I figured it wasn’t meant to be and decided to move on.
I get by with a little help from my friends
I remembered hearing something about a friend of mine who was a realtor. She had helped a few friends find a place to live and none of them were home owners. I decided to send her an e-mail and she quickly responded. It took a few weeks for me to find properties I liked, but Crissy immediately responded to my request for help and lined up three properties to see in short order. Unfortunately, two of the places were hardly a good fit. One was a third floor walk-up; the other was two flights up. Imagining a future with a new baby in my arms and two not-so-great knees under me, I quickly ruled both out even though the price was perfect for the second place. The third place proved tricky to get into only in that the key was next to impossible to find. When I saw it, it seemed just about perfect. With a new kitchen, a washer and dryer, two bedrooms and two bathrooms, the price was a bit out of my price range, but I decided to make it work.
Crissy helped me get my application into the realtor who had listed it. In a few days, he called to tell me that the owner of the place had reviewed three applications and mine was not selected. I was disappointed but not completely daunted. I decided to keep looking at the listings Crissy was sending me as well as hunting down my own.
Mark, the erstwhile rental agent who seemed to quickly disappear after the first and only place he showed me fell through, called. He said his mother had passed away and he had taken off a few weeks to handle her affairs. I understood this, but really wished he had simply called before. My current lease is actually up on the first of February. I have the privilege of paying almost $200 a month more to stay here. I really need to find a way out. My last place came to me via a Google search that sort of lead me to it by surprise.
Don’t get your hopes up unless you want them dashed
The price was perfect. For less than $1200 a month, it included two bedrooms, one bath and a fireplace. The tile floors weren’t exactly baby-friendly, but I figured some great rugs could take care of that. I arranged an appointment with the owner who also turned out to be a realtor herself. I thought it almost divine providence when I learned her name was Dawn. I had already chose that name, albeit the Norse version, for my future daughter.
We met at the property last week right before I had to report to work. The bathroom was tiny and I didn’t love the coin-operated washer and dryer, but I really liked the owner and the property had a lot of potential. The best part was its ground-level access. Not a single stair to navigate. The best part was its proximity to my job: less than three miles. With gas climbing towards four bucks a gallon here, this was especially welcome. I quickly completed my application, but I could tell from my conversation with Dawn that she was nervous about renting to me.
I finally heard back from her today. She had yet to process my application and background check which included my credit. I have some credit issues I’m working to fix and was upfront about this. I also offered her a second month’s rent plus first and security deposit. She seemed okay with this a few days ago, but expressed her reservations once again about renting to me. She brought up everything from my having enough support for my big life change to my two cats (her ad never mentioned a no-pets policy). I missed her call by seconds. After playing her voice mail, I fell to pieces.