This afternoon, I went to look at a rental house Friend One and I have been eyeing. Here's the backstory: I live in University housing, and while my school offers amazing housing for families, and I live in the best of the best (an old, lovely 3 bedroom house literally a five minute walk from campus, on a tree-lined street filled with other University families with kids), I have to leave by September 15th. I want to keep Thing One and Thing Two in the same elementary school (aka "The First Name School," since all the teachers and administrators go only by their first names. No "Mrs." or "Mr." I love it.) which has been wonderful for them. The First Name School is, by far, the best public school I've ever seen. They have PE and music teachers, a special science program, an active PTA that isn't too insane, a full-time behavioral specialist, a good reading program, and a great overall community (of course they have the Creepy Soccer Moms, but what school doesn't?). They have people come in to do after school programs in art, spanish, and yoga. It's perfect for us.
The neighborhood surrounding the few University housing streets, however, tends to extremes of housing--tiny apartments and big, semi-run down houses with 7 bedrooms, or huge, stolid looking houses that you could attach words like "Tudor" and "Victorian" to. Basically, it's undergraduate-beer-swilling-and-partying-encouraged housing or full-tenured-track-professor housing. There is almost nothing in between.
But I am desperate to keep the kids in this school. So I've been looking for a smaller house, something with a yard for the Things, and something within the First Name School's boundaries. Friend One and I found a house that seemed perfect for me on Thursday. I called the landlord, and he let me know that the house was open for viewing today.
I drove over to the house. Let me preface this by saying that it's a two bedroom house, and smaller than the place we currently live in. But it has hardwood floors and a nice-sized kitchen, and the living spaces are open, large and perfect. The back yard is huge (albeit it needs some work) and the neighborhood is exactly our pace: some families, some grad students, some older couples, nothing too fancy, but everything kept up to some degree. The neighborhood looks loved and lived in.
I knew the house only had two bedrooms, but I also knew that, since the seperation, it's been nearly impossible to get Thing Three to sleep by herself. In fact, I've given up completely and have decided that if she needs to sleep in my bed for the next year, then she needs to. She's four. She's allowed to be needy. Thing Two sometimes pulls up camp in the middle of the night and spreads out on my floor. And, as of late, it's been impossible for him to sleep in a room by himself. Hence, he's taken to sleeping in Thing Three's bottom bunk. Thing One is the only kid that regularly stays put in her bed. So, to sum up, every single night there is an empty bedroom in my house. Every night. So, renting a house with two bedrooms, and spending less rent and putting that in savings and toward student loans, seems like a good idea to me. Fiscally responsible, yet refreshing. That's me.
This is what happened, though. I got to the house. Another couple was already there, filling out the application. The landlord was there. He gave me an app to fill out, smiled and was generally friendly. After he finished talking to the couple, I gave him my completed form. The one that I had put down my name, information, and a little about the Things. This is where it got ugly.
"Oh. Oh. You have three kids?"
"Well, this is a two-bedroom. I'm not sure it's enough house for you and your family."
"My kids are little, and they shares a room now anyway. The layout is open and the shared living spaces are pretty good sized."
"Well, you seem like a perfect tenant. All this rental history. But I dunno, three kids."
He then went on to ask me about my degree program, if I'd graduated yet, where I worked. He said, over and over again, "it must have been hard. Three kids! Graduate school." I abhor this*, the way some people compliment me like it's charity. Look, I know it's hard. I was the one that did it. I don't need to be told, in that voice loaded with the pride of false generosity, that it was hard.
I was polite, but then brought him back to the task at hand. He has a house. I have good credit and a good rental history (especially since leaving The Man. I paid off some old debts on my graduate stipend, for Chrissakes!). I want the house. He would pause and say things like "I'll think about it, but..." then launch into something. Once he asked me about writing, how could I possibly found the time (my writer friend, and single mom, Alana hates this question more than I do. "I don't find the time," she says. "I make it.").
Another time he said, "Well, I have three kids. And let me tell you, they do better if they each have their own rooms." No kidding. But, as a landlord with several rental properties, he probably had the means to afford a 4-bedroom house. I don't. I must work within the constraints of my budget and the school boundraries.
Then he asked "so, will this be Section 8?" Section 8, for those of you not in the know, is essentially subsidized housing for poor people. "No," I said. "As you can see, I work. And I pay my bills."
I wanted to tell him that it was classist to give me that crap--the bedrooms business, and the Section 8 line. I was also pissed because I knew if it had been a couple with two kids--same number of people--he would have had no problem with it. Yet the entire time, I resisted telling him off because he kept saying "well, I'll think about it," and I am so desperate to find affordable housing in this area that I didn't say anything, just tried to hold on to that slim chance that he might change his mind.
I hate having to bargain with my conscious like that.
At the end of the conversation, he finally broke me a little. He sighed, shrugged his shoulders as if to say "well, it's not my call," and then said "I'd like to help you, but...". I said back quickly, "I'm not asking for help. I'm asking to rent a house." He said something, was friendly, didn't seem to notice that he was discriminating against me. "Oh, I'm sure you'll find something in your price range" he said, almost happily. It was so convenient for him to put the responsibility someplace else.
I didn't really comprehend the level of discrimation I would face as a single mom. I live in Oregon. Hippy Oregon. My kids are great--not well behaved ala Stepford Children--but generally well behaved. They share really well, are smart and kind. I cannot think of a time when someone has said anything negative to me about running around with three kids and being not married. In fact, on the ferry back from Whidbey Island, a woman stopped me and said the kids were so well-behaved, and she was impressed. As a mother, that's the kind of discrimination I've been used to--the exacting eye of other mothers in public. The scrutiny of the PTA members. But while that kind of exclusion is painful, it doesn't keep you from getting a house.
I'm still incensed by this. Still infuriated. In the past year, I've finished a demanding degree program, taught three college courses, parented my kids, taught Thing One how to flip pancakes, Thing Two how to tie his shoes, and Thing Three how to curl her tongue. I've organized sleep overs, landed a job, and saved enough money for first month's rent and a deposit. I've written, sent work out, tended to my children, baked cookies and picked berries. I've hosted a 4th of July party. I've started packing up my house. And yet this jerk seems to think it acceptable to deny me housing.
It still, somehow, seems unreal to me. All of it.
*every time I tell a story where someone gives me this kind of compliment, Friend Two flinches. It's like he is afraid for the person or something.