Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Once Fallen's Moving Day: Has a lack of residency restrictions improved the moving process?

Life as a Registered Citizen is filled with a number of worries, but perhaps no concern we have is greater than finding a place to live. For the past eight years, I have lived on Eden Avenue, just two blocks from the University of Cincinnati. It was not the greatest apartment in the world, but it was home. 

I had no intention to move, but I had no choice in the matter. On September 25, 2014, my apartment complex was bought by a company called Uptown Rentals, a big housing conglomerate in Cincinnati. They have been buying up older properties in the areas close to UC, tearing them down, and replacing the buildings with newer (and poorly built) properties they rent at a far higher rate. My apartment complex was built in the 1920s. It had survived being hit by a falling tree in a windstorm in 2008 because it was a brick building with steel frame construction. It will soon be replaced by a building lacking a steel frame, a cheap throw-together building that will rent for more than twice per month for the same size apartment I rented for the past eight years. 

Five days after buying the property, Uptown Rentals gave every person in the 14-apartment complex the 30-day notice to vacate the premises. My neighbors were mostly long-time residents, including people who were elderly and disabled. Uptown Rentals didn't care. They offered no assistance to any of us as we were forced to scramble to find a new place to live. They lied to tenants about offering help (even telling one they would write us a $1000 per tenant check to help us with the move) and they even threatened residents they felt were not working hard enough to find a new place to live. [I wrote a very scathing review of Uptown Rentals if you want the full story: CLICK HERE TO READ IT.]

Even though my move was not the result of my status on the registry, the prospect of looking for a new place to live was frightening. I didn't have much in the way of resources-- I don't have any money in savings and owe thousands of dollars in credit card and student loan debt, plus I live off Social Security so money is very tight. Also, I remembered the difficult time I had the last time I was forced to move to a new apartment. In 2006, when I last faced a forced move, I spent several months and dozens of phone calls--131 calls to be exact-- before I found the residence at Eden Avenue. In the time between my move in 2006 and this more recent move, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled residency restriction laws do not apply to anyone convicted before July 1, 2003. My conviction date was before then, so I didn't have to worry about residency restriction laws.

No doubt some of my readers are wondering if I noticed a big difference in finding housing between my move in 2006 and my recent move. I called 100 less places and out of those 30, three were open to renting to me. I still had my share of negative responses but it was not as bad as it was in 2006. Of course, this was merely a personal observation. A number of other elements could have factored into the relative success in finding a new place-- it could have been dumb luck, my improved ability to apartment hunt based on my previous experience and knowledge of the subject, having a better method of approaching prospective renters, or the fact that people are more understanding of the stupidity of sex offender laws in the past. (I had a few conversations with sympathetic landlords; however, we are still considered a liability and thus many wouldn't rent to us out of fear of lawsuits.) Whatever the case may be, it took only two months and 31 phone calls, five months and a hundred calls less, to find a new home.

Still, I hated moving to a new part of town. I miss the conveniences of my old apartment. The reason I've been able to survive off a mere $740 a month is because my rent was $395 per month AND included electric, water and heat. Now, I pay $420 plus heat and electric. Now I have far less money to invest in the cause than before. That means in order to complete much-needed activist projects, I will be more dependent on fundraising than in the past.

Back on topic, I feel residency restrictions (or lack of restrictions) play a major role in finding housing. perhaps the best way to study this issue further is simulate the apartment hunting experience in places with and without residency restrictions. I have a hypothesis that places with residency restrictions are more likely to believe in the efficacy of the laws and, as a result, even renters in places not covered by restrictions are more reluctant to rent to Registered Citizens than in areas where residency laws don't exist. I believe the human factor has been minimized in previous residency law studies. How much "available housing" in non-restricted area is actually available to us?

It would be nice to see the end of residency restrictions, but it seems that Wisconsin is poised to become the next state to push for residency restrictions. An activist's work is never done, is it?