Subsidized housing

When I applied to subsidized housing in 1992 it seemed like a no-brainer at the time.  It took only a year to get in.  I can’t even recall which month it was that I moved into the apartment I had on the top floor in my other building, a few blocks from here.  I lived there until 2008.

This is Section 667 Housing.  It’s state-run.  Many people have never heard of Section 667, but my town isn’t the only town that has it, there are other towns as well.  It’s not the same as Section 8, which is a voucher program, and federally run.

The building I was in was half federal and half state, from what I recall, but I don’t think the federal half was Section 8.  Honestly, I don’t know too much about it or the technicalities.  I don’t even want to think about the old place.

Think about it: I was 33 years old when I moved in with a bunch of old people.  Not only that, but I was a very young 33, that is, I sure didn’t look my age at all.  I was a kid who’d go buy cigarettes for her boyfriend and get carded if the store owner had any doubts. My interests sure weren’t bingo all day long, going to casinos, learning about how to care for diabetes, watching television, grandchildren, and all the other boring things those neighbors did.  Oh, they also had exercise classes which consisted of lifting your leg and then lowering it.  I liked to go out jogging or riding my bike, no, not a stationary bike, but my old ten-speed.

But for me, moving to subsidized housing sure had nothing to do with age. It was economically the thing to do.  I could have moved to “family housing,” but the wait was seven years.  Financially, I couldn’t wait seven years. That and the “parents” problem that I couldn’t exactly explain over the phone to these housing people.

See, when I got my first apartment in January 1987 in Watertown, I was rather desperate.  I had to get something.  I was stuck in a lockup joint and my parents were pressuring me and the docs, too, were getting on my case.

One day, we were in a family meeting.  All of these people that is, the nurses, the docs, my parents, they were all demanding that I go live in a halfway house.  I told them absolutely no way was I ever going to set foot in one of those places again, with the uncaring, unfeeling staff I couldn’t even talk to, no privacy, and fellow residents I couldn’t even relate to and had nothing in common with.  I said I loved my dog, Hoofy, and I wanted to be with Hoofy and care for him as it was always meant to be.  I would have it no other way.  Finally, I convinced them.

They had another grueling meeting and my parents were saying, “Why not have a roommate?”  This was because they wanted to save money.  But I reminded them of the last roommates I’d had in Vermont and my decision that roommates aren’t for me. The two that kept the place spotless (which was nice) but never said a word to me the whole time they lived there. Then the one after that who tried nonstop to convert me to her religion. Again, I told them I valued my privacy and I would find a place.  I began to look.

I didn’t care what town it was in.  All I wanted was to get the hell out of the hospital and away from my parents, but at the same time, on my income, I knew it would have to be “supplemented” from…er…”dad.”  And I’d have to make up a few stories to this new landlord about some kind of employment.  All mental patients did that in the 1980’s.  Plus, I had to find a place that would take Hoofy.

Yes, I found a place, and luckily, my parents didn’t insist on embarrassing me by coming with me and “inspecting” the place.  At the age of 29, I sure would not have wanted my parents along with me while I signed a lease.  My mom would have said something condescending to make me feel like I was in kindergarten.

It was at night that the realtor, or real estate person (not that I know the difference) showed me the place.   She claimed the electricity was turned off at the time, whether that was true or not, I have no clue.  Yeah, I got ripped off, but not too badly. It could have been far worse.  The main ripoff was regarding parking.  The lease agreement was deceptive about that. My parents made a big deal over how stupid I’d been to get ripped off and that I should have been more careful, but I ended up stopping driving anyway and I gave my car to my mom.  So they got a car out of it.

The heat in the apartment was excellent.  You couldn’t adjust it, but it was so nice and warm. Warm enough all winter long. I never had to run a space heater and I was never shivering under blankets.  No worries there, and I didn’t pay a cent for heat or hot water and from what I recall, electricity was also included.  The landlord was absentee for the most part and the neighbors were extremely friendly without being nosy.  No one “dropped by” uninvited, but if I ever had a question or concern, I knew I could ask any of them.

As I said, there was the “parents” problem.  When I moved in, the realtor, or the landlord, can’t recall which, insisted that my dad cosign the lease due to my questionable income.  I think this is standard practice and understandable since I said that my dad was going to help me out until this “job” that I was vaguely referring to came through. It was embarrassing, but many young people have to deal with that embarrassing “cosign” thing.

However, the “parents money” thing was grueling.  I was dying to get out of the obligation.  Let me explain.  So I didn’t really have enough money to pay the rent, and not long after I moved in, the landlord raised it, but he never raised it again the entire time I lived there.  That, too, raising the rent like that, was a ripoff thing, but considering everything, I rather lucked out with this apartment, despite all my parents’ put-downs.  But my dad had a way of being grueling about money.

He’d demand to know every single cent I spent.  I hated the privacy problems I was running into.  So I’d go out to coffee with someone and the cup of coffee was a dollar.  I’d have to write that down for my dad, and where I spent that dollar, how much I’d tipped, who this friend was, and then he’d grill me on where I’d met the friend, on and on.  Control, control, control. Every cent controlled.  I began to realize that financial independence meant all kinds of freedom from my dad’s nonstop questioning and it also meant privacy and having a life of my own.  When I applied to subsidized housing, how was I to explain this to the housing people?  Of course, I didn’t.

They said, “How can you afford to live in your current apartment on your income?”

I finally told them my dad was helping me out.  They told me if he had the money, then obviously he was supporting me and I didn’t need subsidized housing.  I told them his finances were not their concern, and he could no longer afford to assist me.  I was quite firm.  And my dad was pressuring me, too, that he couldn’t afford to give me much more money.

It meant freedom to me to move into the fifth floor apartment in 1993, even though I didn’t belong with elderly people at age 33.  I felt sad to leave my other apartment at the more central location on the bus line.  The new building was remote and inconveniently located.

What I never realized until I’d been in elderly/handicapped housing for a while was the stigma of living there.  You get badly discriminated against when people know you live there. They turn up their noses at you.  Townspeople think it’s a nursing home.  Even the pharmacy thought I lived in a nursing home!  I was insulted and embarrassed.

Especially when I moved to this building, which is more elderly and the units are not specifically “handicapped,” the stigma is worse.  You would not believe this, but families literally dump “grandma” here.  The object is to leave “grandma” here so they don’t have to pay her bills.  It so heartbreaking.  I mean, it’s great for “grandma,” too, the financial independence, but the being dumped part and the “final resting place” feel of living here definitely sucks.

I see a lot of sad, lonely, elderly people and I want to cry.  They all go downstairs for this “community meal” and this is supposed to be “elder services.”  They’ve got their walkers and their oxygen tanks, and they watch me whip out past them with Puzzle every day, me and Puzzle, rain or shine.

These old people aren’t like me.  I can’t relate.  Never did, really.  I’m still in my 50’s.  I want this stigma off my back.

I have an application in for another housing in Boston.  It isn’t “elderly,” it’s “mixed,” and so there will be all ages, that is, young and old together.  I was assured of this when I applied.  Today was Puzzle’s birthday and I promised her that by her next birthday, we’ll be out of here.