Living in the Belly of the Beast- thoughts on Gentrification

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I live not quite in the belly of the beast, but inside it’s reach. I live just southwest of Seattle in a neighborhood that often, folks marvel that I’ve not been killed or they remark about the “nice” parts of my neighborhood near the beach and look aghast when I say I live way East of those pretty views and multi-million dollar homes. The beast I’m talking about is gentrification, a fiery mouthed thing gobbling up family businesses, pricing out us lesser than, and lining the pockets of developers and other folks.

A lot of the talk we see about gentrification is numbers. We get news stories that don’t speak the name of the beast but we know what it is. We get stories about rent increases, booming housing markets, growing corporations along with some rah-rah about whatever industry is booming at the time. We also often locally see more articles, op-eds and think pieces about unsightly problems such as junky cars, weird stuff on patios, and other things nice neighborhoods shouldn’t have.

Too frequently, all of the “news” comes from the people benefiting from gentrification. We see tales of woe about the loud music played by scary people, we see complaints about how terrible our favorite little stores, people in places we love complaining about spicy food or weird smells. It starts with so many small clues, we see apartment buildings bought by huge companies, painted and our neighbors moving because suddenly their formerly hood apartments become “vintage properties” with “amenities” and rents start creeping up.

This is where I live. For years now, when I tell people what neighborhood I live on, eyes widen. “Aren’t you scared?” “I’ve heard it is so dangerous over there.” In the past couple of years, I’ve seen public transportation “improvements” mean that my neighborhood where there are a lot of people who depend on public transportation to just live their lives, lose service. When I look at the improvements, neighborhoods where people choose to use the bus rather than needing to take the bus get better access.

The apartment building where I live has been painted trendy colors, gotten a new staff of perky people who, when I was signing my new lease enthusiastically told me about changes and amenities. Our “amenities” as advertised, laundry facilities where the machines don’t really work, a pool that as of yesterday was a lovely shade of green with a portapotty standing watch over a mess of construction materials left in the weather. “Secure access” means that no one in my building can order food and have it brought to their apartment, if it is before 2 PM no one in my building or the one across can receive packages from UPS, FedEx or any other company that is not USPS.

USPS can’t bring packages to our door.

For this, I pay almost half of my income.

This is living in the belly of the beast.

For me, trying to survive gentrification means that my cost of living will go up another 15% while my income stays the same. Seattle and the surrounding areas, are so expensive I have to decide if I want to add another hour to my two hours each way commute, or do I struggle to stay put and pay another increase for hood living for gentrification prices.

What troubles me most beyond my uncertainty about how my family is going to survive, is how people who have never felt this type of stress talk about it. Someone like me starts a crowd funding project for anything from medical bills to getting a car or moving into a decent place to live. On one level, we are told if we’d just work as many of us already do, they call us lazy, they say we don’t deserve or haven’t earned a car or a home. When I’ve done a few crowd funding projects or listed my paypal on order to accept tips on my work or donations as people please, I’ve been called racial epithets, told that I’m the reason people think Black folks are lazy.

What these people, even the well-meaning ones who suggest working an extra job or picking up work outside of my current 12 hour days is that we’ve tried it. Most poor people I know already hustle their butts off trying to make ends meet. And you know what? I’ve done it. At one time, in order to keep my partner and I in food I was writing low paying content mill stuff. The crap you see on advertising blogs, crappy spammy comments. I wrote a lot of them. It paid crap and added an extra 10–15 hours of work per week but, we had to eat.

Recently, I was doing some short key word loaded blog posts for some spammy blog. It paid enough that along with money earned on Patreon and some other money, our economic stress was lessened. When I suddenly lost that income, lift tilted and I got scared.

I sat myself down with my budget and slashed. My entertainment budget (25$ a month for two audiobooks), my self-care budget (20–35$ monthly ish for things like fruit for my lunch, a fancy coffee once a week etc) and anything else I could. My budget is lean and mean. I’m starting to figure out how to live on the money during the long 15–16 days between paychecks and after my rent is paid. While doing that, I realized that when our lease is up in beginning of 2017, I’m going to have to do it all over again.

This is what the stress of living in the belly of the beast does. Gentrification is burning up my quality of life and peace of mind like a wild fire. This is the stress and the terror people like me live with. For those who can’t find work, things are worse. So what am I going to do?

I’ve done the math and barring a huge increase in my wages, I’m going to have to stay put and deal with the prospective 200$ increase in my rent. I’m going to keep writing and creating the way I please. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll make more money. I’ll launch my next book, I’ll finish the small press poetry book I’ve been working on and I will be real about my situation.

Part of why I wrote this piece was to help myself come to terms with things. I’ve been despairing about gentrification on a very real level. I have nightmares about homelessness and displacement, nightmares about how I’m going to make sure my partner can get their medications. I have been wound up so tight that doing the one thing I know I am good at, writing, has been difficult. I don’t want to do that anymore.

Writing about it doesn’t solve the problem but it helps me deal with the stress. And stress is a killer. I also believe in stories like mine being heard among the cheering of “progress”. I want people to know that there are real people in the belly of the beast and we’re scared.

I’m learning to not let these things drag me into hopelessness. While as things stand now, in six months I could be going hungry. That said, I have time to figure it out or for a change to come. I will not be swallowed easily nor will I be spit out and left behind. I will give the beast a bellyache and go down kicking.