As a California native who could never quite convince herself to leave this great state, I’ve grown accustomed over the years to insane rental costs and the fine art of the Craigslist search for that apartment needle in the haystack. But in the past couple years, it’s gotten out of control. In fact, my current city of Sacramento had the largest rental rate increase in the nation for 2017 with an increase of 11% since 2016, prompting talks of rent control and other city-wide limits. People are flocking here from the Bay Area and driving up the cost of housing, but it’s not just a California/Silicon Valley problem. The recent housing crunch and rental rate acceleration is being felt nationwide with median rent rising faster than ever before. Check out Zillow’s latest market report to see how your own city is fairing.
Sometimes I lie awake at night and wonder whether it was the right decision to leave my rent-controlled studio in San Francisco.
…Let’s jump into the Wayback Machine for a moment to visit a youngish Chrissy circa 2008, when she met her shady landlord at a Starbucks on Van Ness to sign on the dotted lines… Yes, the apartment (as pictured above) was 325 square feet in a crusty old building where you asked no questions about the rotating cast of characters living in the basement/laundry room. Yes, the building’s hallway was leaning precariously in like an old drunk on a dive bar stool. And Yes, I eventually got to the bottom of that musty smell by peeling back the layers of bathroom drywall to reveal an impressive cornucopia of mold. But the apartment was rent controlled and I was paying under $1000 a month in Nob Hill! If I wasn’t eight months pregnant at the time that I chipped that ceiling back, then I might have stayed and risked the black lung. Because that nasty little apartment was my home and I loved it and the city so goddamn much! I was eight months pregnant when I left my place and all I have to do now is close my eyes to be vividly right back there again. With the Sunday sun streaming through my bay window blinds as the sounds of my neighbor’s opera rehearsal filters down the light shaft and fills my little nook of a home…
Apartment Living With Children & Your Rights
So when my shady landlord saw that I was pregnant, and that my handy boyfriend was taking it upon himself to bill her for the minor repairs that she’d decided I didn’t need (such as a toilet that flushes), she said some things to me that were not legal to say. Like that I needed to move. And that i couldn’t have a baby in the building or in a studio apartment. Here is where I’d like to point out a few important facts that us single mama renters should always keep in mind:
- You cannot be denied housing because you have a child.
- Families cannot be restricted to one area of a building or complex.
- Rules cannot unfairly target children.
- Advertisements cannot state that children are not wanted.
And here is a link to a much lengthier tenant’s guide for those who may be interested or need more detailed information.
Simply put, mama: you have rights! You have just as much a right to be there as anyone else, so long as you’re paying the rent on time and obeying the rules as outlined in your lease agreement. If you feel that a landlord is trying to bully or cajole you out of your space, there are a number of ways you could fight back such as writing a letter to your landlord to document the violation and contacting your local tenants union.
So what if your current living situation can only afford you a studio? Again, this is where federal fair housing laws come into play. Even if you’re on a one-tenant lease, you may have more occupants living there besides yourself if they are your children. Generally speaking, the maximum legal tenancy for a rental will be two persons per bedroom plus one. So for example, three people could share a one bedroom. But moreover, children under eighteen would be considered occupants, not tenants, and there is a legal distinction between these classifications.
Alternative Living Solutions
Although I went back and forth on the decision, ultimately I decided to leave my studio apartment and move to a one bedroom (non moldy) apartment in a more affordable but still pretty cool city. However, during the course of my research, I was inspired by other families who are able to live simple and embrace the small-space lifestyle. For example, this four-person family shared a 400 square foot studio in San Francisco, a great example of folks hesitent to move due to rent control and rising costs of living in the city. The father of this family did a good job documenting their four-year experience and sharing some of the tricks they used to make life more comfortable. Here is some additional advice on how to live successfully with your child in a small space. I’ve also found that the recent tiny house movement, as twee as it can be, serves as a great inspiration for smart design and organization (Check out Tiny House Hunters on HGTV if you’re feeling cramped with your kids, and be thankful that there isn’t a compost toilet added into the mix!)
Non-Craigslist Housing Search Options
Perhaps you don’t qualify for a rental on your own. Maybe you’re just coming out of a relationship and you don’t have the funds for first/last month’s rent plus deposit. Maybe you live in a prohibitively expensive city for single parents. Or maybe you would just feel more comfortable in a shared housing scenario. Before you lean back on good ol’ Craigslist, let me share with you two valuable internet resources that I’ve recently come across…
The first of these resources is CoAbode. Do you ever have one of those “Eureka” moments where you think of a business idea and you say to yourself, “Yes! That’s Brilliant!…Now I must Google this concept to see if it already exists…” CoAbode was that for me.
When I was in the process of separating from my child’s father, I thought: How perfect would it be for there to exist a co-op in which single moms could pool their resources together, support one another as roommates, and share the daily chores of life? CoAbode has taken strides to fill that niche. They operate on the core principle that “two single moms raising children together can achieve more than one going it alone.” When you sign up for their free service, you’re prompted to fill out a profile that will then be used to match you with compatible single-mama roommates whose needs are comparable to yours. On top of this, they have other resources to take advantage of. You can use their ‘Friend Circle’ to communicate with other moms who are going through similar circumstances (Discussing divorce with children, keeping kids safe, career advancement, etc). Or, you can peruse their very impressive list of resources. I realize I may lose a significant portion of my readers to their internet rabbit hole, but that’s okay. I absolutely love the spirit and cause of CoAbode!
The second resource that I would recommend in a post-Craigslist era is Nextdoor.com. While I realize that Nextdoor is not created equal for every neighborhood, it still serves as our modern day virtual mixer. You never know which of your neighbors knows someone who knows someone who’s looking for someone to occupy their sweet little guest house. Before I found my current rental, I put out an APB on Nextdoor and was surprised by the response I received. It always felt more like a networking sight to me, where people could really scratch each other’s backs, versus the old Craigslist bulletin board “Help Wanted” model. Nextdoor would probably be your best bet if you’re seeking alternative living solutions like a live-in nanny scenario or property caretaking gig.
Sometimes it can get us down when we have to share a small space with our family, whether it be a guest room, a tiny home, a studio, a roommate situation, or otherwise. We all wish we could provide so much more for our children, and it’s definitely not easy finding good housing in these times. The best we can do right now is share our knowledge with each other. If you have any advice or thoughts on affordable housing, please feel free to drop a line in the comments.
In my continued effort to maintain a global perspective, I was reminded of a coffee table book that I read a few years back called Where Children Sleep by James Mollison. The book features beautiful photographs of children from all parts of the world taken in their respective bedrooms and sleeping areas, along with each child’s personal story. Some of the stories are hard to read and the book ultimately reminds us of the great disparity of wealth that exists in this world. If you haven’t already read it, Where Children Sleep might be a good book to pick up and share with your own child as an introduction to all the different ways people live around the world.