Search for Housing Gets Curiouser and Furiouser


A little over a year ago, I wrote a short article here about my search for affordable housing. Renting an unsafe mobile home in a drug-laden trailer park is not the most fun a sober single lady can have, and the landlord’s refusal to make repairs while still raising the rent and trying to grab my ass sent me packing. To a room in a house my aunt was renting while waiting for her own affordable housing ship to come in. Well, hers came in February and left me scrambling to find another room as the lease, and my life, dissolved around me.

I found another room—just up the street, in fact—but there was no forward motion on my Section 8 voucher in either Sonoma or Mendocino County, and no place I’d found thus far accepted them anyway. Finally resolving to just look for something I could get by on, I applied for a minuscule space, 120 square feet in all with no kitchen, just a mini-fridge, back in Ukiah. It’s a nine-month lease, so I figured I could grit my teeth and spend that time tripping over boxes while staking out the best possible place that would accept my housing voucher when it came through. Strategery!

Well, maybe not. Having paid a second time for a credit check through the same Realtor (my first one “expired” with nothing to show for it), I applied and threw my every virtue at them along with the best references I could possibly muster, and probably more information than they wanted to see. I needed to prove that, despite never in my life earning three times the rent, I have always paid in full and on time. It seems like they heard me, and my application is working its way through the system.

But there was something I needed to know: If I show up and the next day my voucher comes through, how long would I have to find a place? I had reason to believe I might be high on the waiting list, and it would be risky to assume responsibility for the lease as well as move-in costs and rent elsewhere on my table-scrappy income. So I called the Community Development Commission, who administer the HUD/Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. And things got complicated.

I’ve been in Sonoma County for a year and a half now despite only wanting to spend six weeks at most. I was hoping my aunt would be able to help me find something out of the area since she’s socially connected, but if I moved her rental income stream would dry up, so that help never manifested. I put myself on the waiting list for HUD down here despite not wanting to live here because it would have meant rent on a studio or one-bedroom apartment that amounted to a third of my income. I’ve been paying everything I make plus savings just to rent a bedroom, so that would have made a critical difference. But I learned after about six months that not only was the waiting list in Sonoma County stretching from six to eight years, because my address was in Santa Rosa, the county seat, I was automatically moved to the bottom of said list as low priority. Never mind that I am hemorrhaging money every month with nothing to show for it. It’s just the way the program is run. This was why I was relieved to still be on the list in Mendocino. Just move back and let the tide turn in my favor. Sounds like a plan.

Except it’s not, according to the CDC. Mendocino County’s program runs in virtually the opposite manner to Sonoma’s. When I moved out of the county and sent them my change of address, I was placed in the same rock bottom position Sonoma has me in for being too close, only now it’s for being far away. I believe that in the Marvel Comics universe this is the point at which, having faced a stressor so powerful my DNA was warped, I turn into a supervillain and begin terrorizing a major metropolitan area. Believe me, I am angry enough to pick up your house, shake you out of it and climb inside at this point. But I am still trying to do the right thing here. It’s just that what that is, and what might be a positive outcome, are becoming progressively blurrier over time.

Say I take the tiny room, buy a hot plate and somehow make a go of it through the freezing winter, and in spring my voucher comes through. (Unlikely, but let’s hope). I’ll have 60 days to find a place that will accept it. This is also unlikely; I’ve spent 18 months trolling Craigslist, Realtor listings and private housing boards without turning up one viable lead. Landlords don’t want to accept the voucher because of the stigma attached to low income renters, but it also requires them to make timely repairs. The places I looked at that did not accept it could have used more than a little TLC, but turning a blind eye and collecting rent from a better class of people is how the game is played. And if my nine months are up and I have no voucher? What then?

As it turns out, I found another place owned by the same person, though only because I learned we knew someone in common and prevailed upon them for a glowing reference, not a blessing everyone can access. The system as it exists now is failing clients on multiple fronts. Not only was I unlikely to find a place I can afford despite jumping through every hoop provided, I wasn't even offered false hope, just a shrug. So I keep paring down my belongings to the barest of bare essentials and wonder how lean the future might be.

Heather Seggel is a freelance writer who has many thoughts about the ways tiny houses are revered while mobile homes are reviled. Don't get her started at

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2016

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