So my neighbors and I have until August 31st to vacate our affordable units. I have lived there for 7 years. Others had lived there for 15 and 20 years. When our landlord sold the property, my next store neighbor packed up her stuff and left. She said “Someone’s gonna buy it, tear it down or turn it into condos that we can’t afford.” She didn’t want to see that happen, what with all the changes on Mississippi and Alberta (and later Williams) she was sick of it. People of color and low income folk weren’t wanted over here and were being forced out.
I’m mixed raced, an enrolled member of the Klamath tribe, Mexican Descendant and white (English) – I identify as a person of color. But there are other labels I carry as well that make this story valid. I am an ex-felon, a survivor of violence of many types, former gang affiliate and a former homeless person, and it all happened in Portland. I’m seeking expungement for a crime I didn’t commit over 22 years ago.
Because I have this label I have learned to write letters when applying for work, school and apartments. They include a large amount of information on where I’ve been since 1993 and usually have references and newspaper articles.
When I write this explanation letter I get triggered back to the victim of DV, of being trafficked on 82nd avenue. I also get triggered when I think about ever having to be homeless in Portland again. I didn’t spend long on the street, sleeping in empty houses, getting sick, feeling suicidal. I was also experiencing the overstimulation of being on the loud street after being in Inverness in such a forced sterile environment. I was there with no medical attention for PTSD, anxiety and depression. No one asked if I was trafficked, I was just a criminal, but I wasn’t a criminal. My public defender said “I don’t buy that battered woman story, if I were a woman, I would just take my kids and go sleep in a church somewhere.” (Great guy 22 years later, I still remember his name.) He did me the honor of making me a plea bargain for a crime I didn’t commit so I could get out of a jail I never should have been placed in the first place.
I want to say at this time that I learned from every lesson and never fell back but progressed forward. And with the help of my NARA therapist, anti-depressant meds and a lot of personal work and being radicalized into Portland’s vortex of Social Justice Activists and lovers of peace and spiritual healers I am okay. I can write a paper describing where I’ve been. I tend to see it as a story of victory.
This summer I have been floored when I went to apply for several apartments in Portland and was told that none of them required a letter because I would never be allowed to apply because of their renting criteria. I emailed them a long list of accomplishments and newspaper articles and they still said “No Exceptions.” A colleague suggested a property management company they went with. This company made two site visit appointments for me and I even asked about my fear of getting in and the agent assured me that I had rented a place for more than two years I was good to go.
Two days later I took my daughter and grandsons to view the apartments and no one was there. When I called, the woman on the phone said they were cancelled and the apartments were already rented. She also said with my 22 year old felony I would not be allowed in any of their properties, ever, NO Exceptions. At this point I burst into tears in front of my family members, I don’t think my grandchildren had ever see me cry before. They said “It’s okay grandma, you can come live with us.” I was so angry I told my daughter to google “where can ex-felons live in Portland?” The answer came right back (check it of you don’t believe me.) “Ex-felons can live in outer east Portland and Gresham.” I was both stunned and enraged. My daughter decided to drive, I was so angry I couldn’t see. Between my sweet grandsons offering me a place to live and being talked to by people like I was a piece of gum on the bottom of their shoe I just needed to go home and deal with the triggers rising up and I needed to cry. I had an old familiar spirit trying to bend my ear saying “let’s just end this, it’s too hard but I re-centered myself and went home feeling defeated.
I don’t know what purpose Facebook serves for you but for me it is the most gigantic pool of prayer warriors, wounded healers and the like. They are part of the social justice vortex but bigger than the vortex of justice, many belong to both.
So I got up the next day. I called some more companies and got rejected. Every time while driving around it was “anything with a capital management sign, no, Greenleaf, no, Astoria, no. I called numerous management groups, some were very nice, others incredibly rude. There was a time I used to get talked to like that but that time has passed. My daughter called excited. “Mom I found a place that will take you! It’s in outer east! Here’s her number call her right away.” When I called the number I was blown away, it was the same company that was forcing me out of the place I’m in now. But I didn’t care, it was a place. I filled in the application and paid the $50. Application fee online. It was for a 2 bedroom, with a pool. My daughter and grandkids went out to the location on Saturday night. It was a giant complex, much worse than any placed I ever raised her and she said “You’re not living out here mom, no way.” She then proceeded to drive me all over the city taking down phone numbers everywhere.” I just wanted to go home.
Back at home I got online and researched property management companies and their criteria for renting. There are a couple of levels of exclusion going on in Portland. One levels is the no felons, no exceptions criteria. There is another that is a 2, 5, and 7 year exclusions that also consider different levels of felonies. They all say of you were involved in a crime of violence you are forever excluded.
I ended up finding a place in North Portland whose background checks only go back 7 years which means if you’ve been clean for 7 years you’re in, if you make 2.5 times the rent. So I’m going to a place that is more than double my current rent. I can continue to live in the neighborhood I want and I can take the yellow line to work. But that’s me, what about all the other ex-felons in Portland, what about low income people who work service jobs in the city they can’t afford to live? There are literally thousands of people in Portland just like me, I’m not terminally unique. Creator’s grace brought me here.
As we have all shifted our attention to climate change, how smart is it to have people drive three times the distance to get to work? What is that doing to our air? What is it doing to the rivers? Is this plan lifting our people out of poverty? Are we more integrated or segregated in our neighborhoods?
Have you seen the New York Times article that says “It’s not really gentrification, it’s just poverty?” Was that a way to encourage Wall Street investors to bring their swarms of investors here to flip the last bits of affordable market priced and not feel like guilty gentrifiers? And at the same time we have a houseless populations larger than any other time in history. Are we okay with groups creating exclusionary criteria in an age when we need inclusionary zoning and rent control?
A few questions have been on my mind this year. They are there when I go to sleep and again when I wake. They are the focus of my prayers.
Do we care that thousands of Portlanders are suffering? Does redemption exist?
Is poverty a crime?
Why are these exclusionary practices ok?
Can my tax money go to helping the poor and hungry and houseless instead of war and unaffordable development?
Are the children okay?
Are our elders being taken care of?
Will we be destroyed by climate change or will we destroy ourselves first?
Activist, artist , story teller ,writer currently working for the City Office of Neighborhood Involvement.