Housing First (Annie-6)
Annie's strategies for financial and emotional recovery.
Posted May 30, 2018
Annie contacts me on Facetime with good news: She has gotten the apartment she really, really wants, the one that has a washer and dryer, and that includes all utilities. She’s able to leave the one that, as she says, “had workmen living in my space while they put on a new roof.” The new apartment is about 15 minutes from work, has room for an office/studio, and fits her new budget.
Annie’s got a new budget because she’s got a full-time permanent job. After months of anxiety and financial insecurity in a temporary position, the position has become permanent, and although Annie had to go through a rigorous vetting procedure against another job candidate (whose newly-changed legal first name is “Furor”) she is now getting health and retirement benefits, a decent income, and steady employment as the Administrative Assistant in the Office of Disaster Preparedness. "I spend time thinking about potential disasters, but they are abstract most of the time, not personal. I'm less depressed."
She is very excited because now she has just enough money to do a few things she couldn’t afford before: take a class at the Urban Improv Center, join a large community chorus called “Pop Culture,” and write monologues for performance. She’s busy with improv activities almost every night, a friend in Pop Culture introduced her to a man who has agreed to help her move into her new apartment, and she got a lot of laughs with her monologue on looking for affordable housing in a tight college-town market.
“You should have seen some of them!” she tells me. “One came with a pet rat. It lived outside, and people fed it. Another listed a broom closet as a “den.” A third had no windows. Literally no windows. The guy who showed it to me said that people in medical school usually rent it, because all they need it for is to sleep. They charge $850 plus utilities for it!.” She laughs, though I hear an undercurrent of anger too.
She tells me the story about obtaining the apartment. Sophisticated friends in improv tell her that she won’t find a decent place on her own, that she has to use the hip housing service, which includes a finder’s fee. “Like I can afford that,” she scoffs. But after meeting the pet rat, trying to envision fitting an arm chair and lamp in a broom closet, and imagining paying $850 for a windowless space, she gets online and signs up for the housing service. She quickly learns that you have to pounce on any new listing the second it pops up, so while she is making arrangements for the next Disaster Preparedness meeting at work the next day, she has her cell set to chime whenever a new listing comes up on the website.
Ding! It’s the apartment she actually ends up getting, though it takes three weeks to get it, and she has only one week left on her current workman-invaded apartment lease. “As you know,” she says to me, “I’m having to file for bankruptcy, and my credit rating is shockingly low. Hip Housing—as I call it—runs a credit check, which I will likely fail. The nice guy at Hip tells me to write a letter of explanation, which he will forward to the landlord, who has final say on whether I get the place or not.”
“What did you write?” I ask. If anyone can be persuasive, it’s Annie.
“I told him I had lost my job at the Place That Shall Not Be Named, and been unemployed for six months, and that I have gradually gotten back to full employment at the university, and that I am a responsible tenant, have never missed a rental payment even when I had no income, and that I am quiet, mature, law-abiding, and eager to have a washer and dryer.”
I laugh. I remember years of taking my clothes to a laundromat, which was always hot, tedious, slightly humiliating, and sometimes fascinating. My friends and I would share stories of whom we encountered at the ’mat. My sister’s experience was my favorite: a man who came in, clicked the coin slides on all the machines while opening and closing all the empty dryers and muttering, “My second choice is candy.” Slam! “My second choice is candy. My second choice is candy.” We did wonder a little what his first choice was.
“And how did the landlord respond?”
“He approved me!” Annie can’t believe her good fortune. “Oh, and you know what else about the apartment?” She’s breathless with pleasure.
“I can have a dog! I have been wanting a dog since I moved back east, twelve years ago. And now I am allowed to have one in my apartment, and I have money to buy dog food, and I’m going to have a dog!”
I can see Annie with her dog and know that the dog will ease the loneliness in all kinds of ways.
“It feels like you’ve gotten where you wanted to be when you left here,” I say. “Two years ago, you moved to be closer to improv, to have a decent, permanent job, and to get an apartment where you could have a dog.”
Annie’s quiet a moment, and she looks away from the camera. Annie never cries, but occasionally she takes a moment to let the emotion wash over her. Then she’s back, her deep blue eyes meeting mine across the 75 miles that separate us. “It’s been a long, hard road,” she says.
“Yes. And you have made it.”
She tells me that her father has loaned her money for the first and last rent and security deposit. A friend is coming up with money for the rental truck and the reasonable rate from the Pop Culture mover, which she can repay when she gets her security deposit back from her current place.
"You've got some support," I say. "There's teamwork in action."
She takes a breath and gives me a little smile. “I think it’s going to work,” she says. There is tentative satisfaction, and a tiny bit of fear, in her voice. “I think I’m finally going to have a home.”