There is a debate going on at this very moment concerning the fact that the Los Angeles City Council voted in January 2013 to create a working group to study the Community Care Facilities Ordinance, which mandates that all single-lease housing be eliminated in single-family areas, more than 90 percent of the land in Los Angeles.
How does this impact me? Well, I am living in a single-lease house in Long Beach. If the Community Care Facilities Ordinance passes, I will have to move — again. Do I care? Yes and no.
I moved from Miami, Fla., to Los Angeles during the summer of 2012 to film a documentary teaching how to survive a relocation when you have no friends or family in the city you will be moving to. I moved to Los Angeles with less than $200, and I’ve been sharing my journey on YouTube, exploring different housing options, different parts of the city and the major mental battles you may face during such a tremendous life transition.
One of the options that helped me to survive this transition was shared housing, the same single-lease housing option that the Community Care Facilities Ordinance opposes. Shared housing was my saving grace, allowing me to have affordable, safe housing while I found my bearings in a city I had never even visited. I have lived in three different shared housing units, including the one I am living in now, and the stories I have to share about it are quite amusing and amazing.
The reason I am ambivalent about the Community Care Facilities Ordinance passing is the fact that unlike many of the council members who proposed the ordinance, I have actually experienced what it is like firsthand and I am undecided about whether or not to speak out in support of this ordinance or against it. Let’s start by discussing the benefits of single-lease housing (shared housing).
The Benefits of Shared Housing
Shared housing made moving to Los Angeles feasible for me. After moving to a city I had never even visited, with no friends, family or support, I found shared housing a welcoming option for me and the many others who have also made the trek to California to realize their dreams.
While living in shared housing as a newcomer to Los Angeles you have the benefit of extremely cheap rent. Prices ranged from $325 to $600 a month, all-inclusive. Another remarkable benefit of living in shared housing in Los Angeles is the opportunity you have to build friendships with others who are new to the city like you are. None of us had friends or family here or else we would not have been in shared housing. We needed each other.
You go out together, you laugh together, you sign up for Central Casting together and you get lost together while trying to take the bus to Walmart. Walmart’s on Crenshaw? Wow. We’re going to see Crenshaw in real life! There is a definite bond that develops from a group of ambitious strangers from all around the world who are all living in a house hell bent on realizing their goals. We became each other’s family, whether we liked it or not.
Another benefit of shared housing in Los Angeles is the ability to move from one neighborhood to the next in search of your perfect place. I have moved eight times in the 14 months that I have been in Los Angeles county and explored seven different neighborhoods. I’ve lived in a shared house in Korea Town, Hollywood and now in Long Beach, and each house had between 10 and 25 people living in it, all renting bunk beds — hostel style. I didn’t do this on purpose. Things were crashing down around me in various situations so I was forced to move on. Shared housing options saved me from being homeless while I worked on my goals.
In the sober living house, which is also a shared housing option, the house manager is very personable and welcoming. He’s always fair and has more than his share of drama being in charge of people with addictive personalities. He will take the time to talk to you if you’re having a problem, guide you if you’re lost and need direction and even cook for you if you’re hungry. He creates a family environment as best as he can, laying the down when necessary but also encouraging people to have fun, renting movies for everyone and buying breakfast for everyone when he’s up early.
He goes to all of his meetings to keep his sober living management certifications in order and will even go with you to AA or NA meetings so you won’t feel alone. While I am not a former addict or substance abuser and I’m only in sober living for the cheap rent, I found this last characteristic to be the most endearing.
The Drawbacks of Shared Housing
Let’s begin with a list:
- An obscene amount of drinking
- More drugs
- People stealing your food
- The house closing down forcing you to have to find somewhere else to live, making this option completely unstable.
While living in shared housing, you’ll encounter plenty of shady characters; in fact, you may be one of them, which is okay because you’ll be in good company. Yet, the line is crossed when an open house concept is invaded by random people from the street. At no time has anything I owned been stolen while living in a shared housing environment but I have encountered homeless people and strangers relaxing in different parts of the house, uninvited, because they thought it was a homeless shelter.
Speaking of homeless shelters, shared housing concepts do resemble a homeless shelter in scope. Particularly the sober living arrangement where people are coming into the house right out of detox or from off the streets and they have no job or family to care for them. These people in sober living sit around all day smoking cigarettes and watching crime shows on television with very little ambition to motivate them to try to move on.
One man I met in sober living said he came here not to recover, but to die as cancer overtakes his body. I’ve seen more than one person relapse, get sober and relapse again and one man was kicked out for fondling another man in the house.
While I have generally felt safe in the other shared houses I lived in, because of the volatile nature of the residents in the sober living house in Long Beach, I have feared for my personal safety on more than one occasion. One man, in a drug-induced stupor, lifted his shirt and turned his back to me so that I could see the swastika tattooed on his back.
“Guess who you’ve been being nice to?” he asked and then slumped down on the couch. “I’m a Skinhead.” A different sober-living resident called me a n—–r and another one consistently calls me a bitch in random outbursts, which I suppose has to do with his sickness.
Drug use was rampant across each of the 3 shared houses I have lived in in Los Angeles county, with the sober living house having the least amount of open drug use and drinking. Yet, in the sober living house, it was not uncommon to see someone come home high on drugs much more potent than marijuana.
The stigma from the community associated with living in shared housing is one of disdain, particularly the sober living concept. Regardless of the type of shared housing, people tend to think we are a collection of drunks and addicts when really, we are either young people trying to get a firm grip on the city, in need of emergency housing, or attempting to maintain our sobriety in an environment that we hope will nourish our goal.
Yes, I could afford to find a roommate, but my goal of offering a $4,000 grant to a woman in Los Angeles is why I continue to live in shared housing. While I raise the money to offer a grant to a woman in Los Angeles who is here trying to rebuild her life, I want to keep my expenses low and shared housing will allow me to do that. It’s the only way I can manage since I do not have any family or friends here.
Shared housing saved me.
Shared housing scared me.
Shared housing changed me.
Shared housing educated me.
Should the Community Care Ordinance pass? Well, what will happen to the people who need this type of housing? Homeless shelters will be overfilled. Recovering addicts will have no place to use as a bridge back into society while in transition from a drug and alcohol treatment center.
It will make moving to Los Angeles that much more difficult for those who just need a month or so to get on their feet. It will also eliminate the opportunity to make fast friends in an environment of people who are just as ambitious as you are.
On the flip side, neighborhoods will not have to deal with the revolving door of the shared house where new tenants are moving in and out so often that you can’t recognize if someone is out of place in your neighborhood. Oh, and there are those loud parties, fights and random police visits.
You decide which is more important.
As for me, I’ll keep pushing until I’m forced to move — again.
To learn more about Te-Erika Patterson’s relocation project, please visit The Rebuild Your Life Project.