by Kristen Rogers
It’s the most wonderful time of the year again: moving season. And if your lease is up like mine, you might not be the least bit excited. I’ve moved every year since ’09. This time around, I was eager to make this my last move for a very long time. But once again, I’ve been faced with racism at every turn.
There was one particular apartment that my partner and I completely fell in love with. It had everything we wanted in a place: stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, plenty of closet space, spacious bedrooms, and it was within our price range. Once we saw the place and met with the landlord, we were sold. We hit it off with the landlord right away, despite our obvious differences; he is a white cis dude and I’m a Black queer woman. I told him about my published book and my partner told him about a business we started together. He seemed very interested and warm: the kind of landlord any tenant would want.
Here’s where it gets interesting. A couple days after our first meeting, we got a call from his business partner about my income. Since I am in grad school, my income is a little weird. I am technically not employed, but I get a refund check at the beginning of each semester from the government. Refund checks are the money that’s left over after tuition is paid to the university. The government issues the funds back to students so they can pay for things like housing and food.
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As expected, the landlord asked me to provide the tax form for my refund, bank statements, cancelled checks, and my award letter all to prove that it was real. It is his job to ask questions like “How do I know this is valid income?” But then he started wading into questionable territory. He explained that his reason for being “strict” was that a fireman and other “reputable” people live in the apartment, and he just wanted to make sure the “right kind of people” moved in. I thought to myself, “what do you mean ‘the right people?’” But I knew the answer. If we weren’t young Black folks, we wouldn’t have been questioned this much.
Next, the landlord’s partner wanted to meet with us. Despite my gut instinct telling me a resounding ‘NO’, I agreed to meet with both of them. The meeting was riddled with shadiness and microaggressions. He kept suggesting that my income was not legitimate and that I needed to provide even more proof than legally required.
Upon meeting with the landlord’s business partner, we were told that we needed to pay a different, much more expensive security deposit than we had previously agreed upon. Next, he told us we would need to pay two months of rent every two months, as opposed to paying every month, and even went as far as to say that we would have to renew the lease every two months.
Throughout this conversation it became clear to me that he did not think we were safe tenants to have. He joked, “I don’t want 10 people living in the apartment below me,” implying that all Black people travel in packs. He laughed nervously, as if letting one Black couple move in meant our entire families would move in and take over. To him, my Blackness suggested that I might have several people living in my home unofficially.
It was beyond obvious that we were not welcome in that apartment. I decided I did not want to live in a place where my landlord would be anti-Black towards me and then turn around and ask me for a check. To add insult to injury, we were later told that the place had been rented, and found it updated on Zillow days after that. There is no longer a security deposit listed.
My sanity depends on me being comfortable in my place of residence. Microaggressions being thrown toward me by the person who controls my housing does not make me feel safe. I’ve been in a situation before where my landlord was racist. I was robbed at a previous apartment, and my landlord’s response was that I should have expected that to happen to me given the kind of person I am. I did not want to end up in a similar situation where my landlord made assumptions about me based on my skin color.
Housing racism is a huge problem in this country, especially in cities. Just look at this country’s history of redlining and this recent study that called out Airbnb for their racist hosts. People of color have been denied access to certain neighborhoods because of their skin color since they were allowed to own property, and it is still happening today. It is no wonder that even today, I am encountering this issue with a landlord when I am looking for housing. Landlords are like gatekeepers to the neighborhoods. They are ultimately the ones who decide who is allowed in, and who isn’t. Landlords are in a position of power to perpetuate things like racism. While some reject racism, sexism, homophobia, and other types of oppression, there are many who don’t.
By the grace of some higher power, my partner and I were able to get approved for an apartment in an adjacent neighborhood, but not before they jerked us around the day before I was scheduled to move.
During this housing search, I was reminded how the world is not a kind place for a queer Black woman like me. My search would not have been nearly as hard if I didn’t hold several marginalized communities. And that fact is unsettling. So what can we do about this? We need more people willing to stand up against housing oppression. We all have a right to be just as suspicious of landlords as they are of us. And we certainly have a right to not hand our hard earned dollars to some bigoted landlord, if we can help it.
Kristen Rogers is the author of a book of poetry, Kristen’s Diary, and a soon to be Licensed Professional Counselor. Catch up with her on twitter @believeth3_hype, or by email Kristen.firstname.lastname@example.org .
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