Dear new neighbors,
You must be confused. I went from calling out cheerful hellos to slinking by you with a wince. I’m pretty sure my expression has been oscillating between discomfort and bitterness when I pass by. You must be wondering if you have offended me. Or you might be thinking that perhaps I’m not the same woman who welcomed you so warmly to the block and praised its virtues.
I just wanted to let you know it’s not you. It’s what you represent. When I look at you I see the new face of the city I used to love. Soon, with the exception of the very few low-income properties this town has to offer, it seems everyone will be young, affluent and comfortable. I have to say goodbye because my son and I have been given a notice to move out. We are not being evicted for being problem tenants. We are not being punished for being late on rent. We are losing our home for a sole, simple reason: gentrification.
I should have expected this I suppose. It was foolish to think that someone wouldn’t see this area for the treasure it is. I was naïve and it cost me. Now my son cries every night about leaving his friends at the good schools I’m sure you moved here for. He asks why we can’t stay and I have to explain that the people who own the building want tenants who can pay more. Over the past couple of months, he watched the other units get upgraded and exclaimed over their new features. He didn’t get the pang of anxiety I did at seeing which way the wind was blowing.
I went to the city and was told that the new owners could raise my rent every month if they wished. At the third place I went for aid, I was bluntly told they have all the rights, and I have none. And those low-income housing options I mentioned? I’m on all the lists I can be. Many of them are locked and during my recent frantic search for aid, I was told that my wait could be up to 20 years. I was also informed that the second we leave the city and are no longer residents, we forfeit our place in the queue.
Our story is what happens when there is no rent control. I hope that someday someone will go to the city and make changes. It’s too late for us, but it might not be for others. I worked very hard to get to Burbank. I fell in love 15 years ago and was finally able to move in just before my son started school. Now he’s matriculating two days before our final move out date and we are moving into a van. I am calling it our experiment in socially acceptable homelessness. We’re going to hit the road and seek greener pastures out of state. That’s my silver lining. Road trip.
I hope to return through some miracle or another and see my son finish high school with his friends. I hope to continue to volunteer and finish my advocacy training. I hope to be able to truly live and escape the poverty cycle we continue to be squeezed by. If we can’t come back, will miss this city more than I can possibly express to you.
So again, it’s not you, it’s us. You seem like very nice people who are no doubt appalled to read something like this. If you are wondering what you can do, all I ask of you is to be please remember us. Remember my son on his scooter flying down the sidewalks with his red helmet and ridiculous slang. Our cute toothless poodle, her pink tongue hanging out, walking insistently on the left side leading to embarrassing tugging matches. My neighborly kindness directing you to nearby grocery stores, laundromats, post offices and city services.
Most of all remember this letter and my voice. And should the matter of rent control ever be brought to vote, please consider acting on it so you don’t lose neighbors like us again.