Saturday, April 15, 2017

El Paso: Duranguito #2: Renters

Flor de Luna, Duranguito, El Paso, Texas. January 2017.

Not long after the Duranguito posada, I went to a party.

I mentioned to one of my fellow party-goers that I'd been learning about the situation in Duranguito, and how long-time residents were being evicted to make room for the razing of the neighborhood and subsequent construction of a "multi-purpose performing arts and entertainment center."

Her instantaneous reaction: "They're renters!"

Which I interpreted to mean: "Why are renters concerned about relocating? Why be so concerned about renters?"

If I interpreted the woman's reaction correctly, I get it. I do.

I'm going to assume the woman doesn't look down on renters. I don't think that's what she meant.

My take, instead, is that the woman comes from a middle-class or higher socio-economic cohort. As such, she likely holds some pragmatic assumptions:
  1. A house you own is, at the end of the day, a commodity. You may love your house, but you're willing to sell it for something that suits you better. 
  2. If you happen to rent, you've got options. You've got a sustainable income, a decent credit rating, the means to move your household from the old place to the new place. You've likely chosen to rent instead of buying because you've crunched the numbers and it makes sense for you in your current location and time of life and the current real estate market, interest rates, etc. 
  3. If you know your neighbors, you may like them well enough, but there's a good chance you're not best buds. They won't keep you in the old neighborhood. 
  4. You don't need your neighbors to help with child care, take you to the doctor or the market, or socialize with outside your front doors or in the back gardens, lend you a few bucks til your next influx of money comes in, or share a utility or appliance with. 
  5. Once you become elderly, there'll be a support system available to you that you can pay for - a personal aide, perhaps, a weekly house cleaner, good health insurance.

If I'm correct about this woman's point of view, then I don't blame her - that's her experience in life thus far. I certainly didn't know how often renters were treated as second-class citizens until after I sold my house and became a renter.

I've observed a few things about being a renter.
  • Most landlords, property managers, and property owners do not view renters as customers. Instead, we seem to be children who are sure to cause problems. Not long ago, I heard a property manager in a Midwest state boast about how he deals with tenants who irritate him: "I harass them. I harass the SHIT out of them until they [leave or shut up.]"
  • There are a myriad rules for renters to follow, with very few rules for the landlords. 
  • Renters must submit all kinds of income and identification data to landlords, but landlords don't have to give prospective renters squat for references or identification. 
  • It's prohibitively expensive for a low-income renter to move a household. Consequently, when a landlord is deficient in maintenance, the renter just sucks it up. 
  • Low-income renters are sometimes late with their rent. Consequently, they are at the mercy of a landlord who is deficient in maintenance because they - again - don't want to rock the boat. 
  • Low-income renters often have marginal credit ratings, which reduces their options in the rental market. 
  • Municipalities may apply lower standards when inspecting lower-income housing - when there are any standards - so landlords in such areas get away with years of deferred maintenance and other property neglect, even to the point of creating dangerous living conditions for renting adults and children. 

Many of the renters in Duranguito are elderly. 

Some years back, I did some work related to the elderly, Medicare, and nursing homes. I learned something startling:
  • Most elderly people resist moving from a terrible nursing home - one jammed with a list of abuses, neglect, generally poor practices - to a better place, because the prospect of moving to the unknown is more stressful than staying with the known. Even when the unknown promises better care.
  • Many elderly are loath to complain about their care, no matter how bad it is, because they fear retaliation or they don't want things to get worse or they believe there is no solution to their predicament. 

Many of the renters in Duranguito have low incomes. 

I've noticed a few things about folks who live in poverty or on the edge of poverty.
  • You need your friends, family, and neighbors more than folks who have reliable, sustainable income. 
  • You create a grassroots mutual support network in your neighborhood, with which you can help each other out. 
  • Relationships are important.

So what does all this stuff have to do with Duranguito? 

If I live in Duranguito, there's a good chance I'm a renter. There's a good chance I don't have much income. There's a good chance I'm elderly. There's a good chance I know - and rely on - my neighbors to help meet a number of my quality-of-life needs.

So it's a big deal if I've got to move.

Where am I going to move? Who will my new neighbors be? Can I afford to move my stuff? Who will help me move? Will I find a place I can afford? Will it be close to a market?

Duranguito is home.

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