A block down from our house, furniture was piling up along the curb.
Our neighbor, Roberta, was standing out front. We’d run into her a number of times during family walks, though we’d only exchanged polite waves and neighborly nods.
Roberta shook her head, looking dejected. She told us all of it — couches, dressers, and tables — was there for the taking.
Concerned, we struck up a conversation and found out why.
What we learned was an unfortunately familiar story in Tacoma these days.
Having rented the single-family home for a decade, Roberta, born in 1937, said she’d recently received word from her landlord that he intended to sell the property. He was cashing in on his investment, as is his right.
Roberta’s story hit close to home, since the house we purchased last year also was previously a rental, and we watched the same scenario play out at the home next door a few months after moving in.
The landlord’s understandable decision to take advantage of the hot real-estate market left Roberta and her partner in the lurch. She said they had a month, give or take, to find a new place to live.
So they were getting rid of things.
And they had no idea where they would go when all of it was gone.
You’ve likely heard plenty of stories recently about Tacoma’s hot housing market, stories about steep increases in median sale prices and the now routine bidding wars between desperate buyers. Rents also are increasing. Apartment renters are paying more than 22 percent more in 2017 than four years ago, at $1,376 per month.
It can be a blessing or a curse, depending on what side you fall on. For homeowners, rising home values lend themselves to feelings of financial stability and possibility, especially with memories of underwater mortgages still fresh.
For longtime home renters like Roberta, the hot housing market can have the opposite effect.
They know that at any moment, their landlord might decide to sell.
That was the question Roberta was grappling with as passersby perused her belongings on the curb.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any easy answers. Along with the upheaval of being forced to move comes the prospect of paying more rent for less space. Many people in Roberta’s place can’t really afford that. Resources that might offer assistance also are “extremely limited,” according to affordable housing experts I talked with about Roberta’s plight.
I heard another story recently that is strikingly similar to Roberta’s.
It involves the mother of longtime City Councilwoman and current mayoral candidate Victoria Woodards.
We had to go to work finding her a place to live. It’s a tough situation. People want to capitalize on the investment they made. That’s why they made it. But then …
Victoria Woodards on the uncertainty Tacoma’s hot housing market is creating for area renters
Over the summer, Woodards’ mom, who’s in her 70s and had rented the same Tacoma house for 24 years, got a note from her longtime landlord. He’d purchased the home as an investment, and now he intended to sell.
Woodards agreed to recount the story this week with just one condition, passed along from her mom: “Make sure you say my (former) landlord is a nice man.”
It was a simple request that speaks to the complexity of the issue at hand. Landlords deciding to sell can hardly be blamed. But there are repercussions to longtime home renters in Tacoma and Pierce County, where there’s an acknowledged shortage of low-income housing units.
“We had to go to work finding her a place to live,” Woodards said. “It’s a tough situation. People want to capitalize on the investment they made. That’s why they made it. But then …
“I think it’s tough. I know it’s tough for her,” Woodards continued, speaking to the impact the sudden uprooting had on her mother. “It was extremely difficult.”
Woodards’ first step, she said, was reaching out to local senior housing options. But she quickly hit a roadblock.
“There is senior housing in Tacoma, but every place we called, and every place we went, had a waiting list,” she said.
Luckily, thanks in part to her sterling 24-year rental history and an extension from her previous landlord, Woodards’ mother was able to find a place to move before it was too late. It’s an apartment, in a different neighborhood, where she’s paying one-and-a-half times the rent for a much smaller space.
None of it has been easy, Woodards said, from the housing search, to packing up and getting rid of 24-years’ worth of belongings, to the struggle to find new friends in a new place.
On the campaign trail, Woodards said she’s heard a lot of “fear” about the negative impacts of Tacoma’s hot housing market.
On Wednesday night, I walked back down to Roberta’s house.
I brought a few phone numbers with me — the limited resources I’d been able to scrounge up from people I know who work in affordable housing. When I explained Roberta’s predicament to them, none seemed particularly surprised to hear it. Nearly all of them told me that resources to help people in Roberta’s situation, with little time to waste, were few.
Roberta told me she’d found an apartment to move into. It’ll be close enough for her and her partner to continue to receive medical care from local providers, but it’s much smaller, and the rent is considerably more. Her daughter is helping with the additional expense.
I was happy to hear it.
But I also couldn’t help but think about those who aren’t as fortunate, those who don’t luck out or have a relative to lean on, and wonder what happens to them.