I woke up on Tuesday incredibly relieved, refreshed, and emotionally secure. I didn’t realize how out of sorts I was until I was out of the thick of things but the positive emotions that woke with me also made me realize just how worn out and exhausted I was. The difference between Monday and Tuesday was that the eviction process and limbo status we had been in had finally finished. I woke up in my friend’s apartment in Boston, all of my belongings in Conway NH, and not really having a solid plan of next steps. However, this instability and the fluctuations to come are much less stressful, and even a welcome alternative,to an impending eviction.
These past few months have been incredibly stressful, emotional, and just plain terrible to navigate. We knew that the house would be sold and that we’d be asked to leave. But it took forever for the sale to go through. Each week we waited for an e-mail or letter saying that the house had been sold. Sometimes we’d go weeks without hearing anything and other times we’d be told of a new sale date that would eventually fall through. This was life from April through October. Six months.
The other two units vacated long before we finally did but moving wasn’t really an option for us. I was unemployed and we didn’t have the excess money to put down first/last, a security deposit, broker’s fee, and moving costs. Additionally, we were in affordably priced housing in JP. It was below market value when we first moved in and the rent was never increased. For us to look at the rental market in JP and surrounding areas was overwhelming.
The apartment we just vacated was our home for the past 2.5 years and it was the
longest I had ever lived anywhere since college. It was the first time I considered where I was living as my home rather than just another apartment or place to land. I didn’t want to give up everything that my partner, my communities, and I had created there and the memories that were inside of it.
I spent the months researching Massachusetts tenant law, attending meetings at City Life/ Vida Urbana, and consulting with friends who had been through similar experiences or had legal backgrounds. I refused to simply accept that I would have to leave when some company told me to. I wanted to be prepared both knowledge-wise and emotionally for when the eviction notice came. Despite all the preparation, the e-mail that notified us of the finalized sale and impending notice to quit terrified me. It’s so understandable why, despite MA being a tenant’s rights state, people choose to leave rather than draw out the legal process. My friend was there to tell me that I was capable of combatting the eviction, that I was a badass, and that I had amazing friends and supports who would be there for me. But perhaps the best thing that she told me that night was that I could quit at any point and it would be okay. That’s the message I held closely as I entered territory completely foreign and scary to me.
Unsurprisingly to anyone who knows me, I’m a feminist and I am extremely critical of processes and settings that I am in. I frequently say that no one tells me what to do, especially straight white men. The amount of sexism and disrespect I faced during this process frequently left me feeling two inches tall. Jake has an incredibly open and inviting air about him (it’s one of the reasons I love him) but those aren’t great qualities for a negotiating table or a legal battle. So we decided that I would be the primary contact and the only one to speak during face-to-face meetings. He was authorized to say hello, goodbye, or confirm anything that I directly asked him.
During meetings, the new owners would look at and talk to Jake despite the fact that I was the one asking questions and providing answers to what they needed. They called and texted Jake despite my insistence that I was primary contact. We left meetings and I would question Jake about whether he had said anything because I was looking for an explanation as to why they would look at him and not me. I thought that I had remembered the meeting wrong, that I had misstepped, or somehow gave the impression that I was not engaged. I haven’t questioned myself that hard in response to pure sexism in the longest time and it shocked me that I could still be torn down so quickly by people I hardly know.
My friends and Jake told me that I handled everything so well even though I didn’t feel the same way. My heart beat so fast during meetings and anytime before I sent an email. I sought out validation and reassurance before and after each of these things. I was so focused on maintaining a calm, steady, and fierce voice and body language during meetings that I didn’t actually remember anything that happened. Jake had to summarize them for me after we left. I’m lucky that I had supports in place who understood what I was doing, why it was important, and were there when I felt insecure.
I didn’t expect that explaining this process and why were were engaging the way that we were to be as exhausting as it was. I had to justify to friends and family why we decided to stay rather than leave when we first learned the building was being sold. Apparently this seemed to be the easy and logical answer for them. Nevermind that the day we found out, I was home by myself and was surprised by the former landlord and the prospective buyers doing a walk through of the building. I was so upset that Jake drove home from work in the middle of the day to calm me down before walking over to talk to the former landlord about how inappropriate it was. Even though some people were supportive after learning more about our situation, the law, and the resources, I felt that their support was contingent on how well I justified things that particular day.
Everyone deserves access to sustainable and affordable housing but gentrification and capitalism are increasingly preventing that. The upward trends of white people moving into the city and purchasing property at 2-5 times what it was worth just five years ago is having devastating effects on neighborhoods and communities, especially for communities of color, that have been around for decades. It is pushing people, both renters and homeowners alike, into situations where they can no longer afford to be in their homes.
I can’t count the number of friends and acquaintances who have been evicted or displaced this year alone due to properties being sold, rent intentionally being raised so that people move, or lease terms being changed so that current tenants no longer qualify to stay. Tenants are so frequently seen as expendable and a source of income rather than people. The drive to make money is pushing people out of their homes, neighborhoods, and communities all in search for a higher profit margin.
Having a substantial monetary offer and being able to accept it on a short time frame was a privilege. We had friends and family to fall back on. They helped pack, loaded the moving truck, lent cars, stored belongings, and offered housing to us and our two fuzzbutts. We wouldn’t have been able to complete the process of moving or have had anywhere to go without them. And we are incredibly privileged that we have our own room at each one of our stops over the next couple months. We could have tried to wait out the eviction process and gone to court, it was an option and it might have resulted in a higher settlement. However, we decided that the emotional cost of that process wasn’t worth it. We’d already been through so much and it had worn on us as individuals and as a couple. We wanted out so we accepted the offer and moved.
I am navigating this housing insecurity with my partner. As two grown adults, it is complicated and we’re unsure of many of the moves that we are making. I can hardly imagine how it feels to handle this situation with kids. I remember my mother handling it with grace and strength as she moved our family into our grandparents’ house. Although, I now look at the situation and realize that she must have been even more stressed than I currently am.
Part of me is relieved that we had such a short time frame to move. It didn’t leave me the time to sink into a depression about leaving the place I loved so much. Instead, I focused on the many tasks at hand and what moving forward would look like. I feel that this entire year has been about shifting frameworks, being in uncharted territory, and coming out the other side. I’m proud of myself for engaging the way I did, for being strong when it counted, for relying on friends to pick up the pieces, and for deciding to back down when I knew I could keep going.
One thing I learned is that so few people know that they have rights as tenants. I’ve had multiple conversations with folks who are in the same or similar position. I have made referrals to legal organizations, tenant resources, and websites. So, if you’re still reading, please share this post so that people know that they have options and rights and it doesn’t require epic strength or fancy lawyers to exercise them. I’m happy to provide resources, answer questions, or just listen to someone talk about what they’re going through.
Also, donate all your money to City Life/Vida Urbana. The work they are doing is astounding and life-saving. Literally.