At first I worried that that damn New Urbanism would exile me to a suburban ghetto—Reseda, Pacoima, Norwalk. But it turns out I’m just upwardly mobile enough to afford the urban semi-ghetto—those areas where poor people of color rent and young white gentrifiers buy. As a white girl looking to rent, apartment hunting is an interesting sociological experience.
Here are some of the many ways people have asked me, “Why would you want to live here/there?” over the course of the past week:
- Current tenant of a one-bedroom in Baldwin Hills: “Well, it’s the ‘hood, you know? Helicopters fly over.”
- Teenage boys outside aforementioned one-bedroom in Baldwin Hills: “Hey, schoolgirl. We don’t get your kind around here much, so we gotta look while we can.”
- My dad: “Have you thought about Long Beach?”
- Friends who live in Burbank and WeHo: “Move to Hollywood! Move to Hollywood!”
- Manager of a Koreatown building: “Hola”…something in Spanish about los apartamentos...hears me speak English…phone clatters in surprise…a 12-year-old boy comes on and tells me about the place.
- My dad: “Well, just make sure you’re not the only person of whatever color you are in the neighborhood.” Me: “Whatever color I am? I’m green, Dad.”
There are all these subtle suggestions that I have the option of living somewhere really posh—I think my dad thinks my liberal guilt is keeping me in the ‘hood. And while I have plenty of liberal guilt, I would be just as comfortable having it Santa Monica.
And yet…I guess I do have a choice in some ways. If I wanted to live with a roommate, I could manage WeHo or Venice or Palms. If I wanted to live with my dad, I could live rent free on a cul de sac in Manhattan Beach. If I wanted to pay off my student loan more slowly, I might be able to afford my own place several blocks northwest of where I’ve been looking. All of those factors do distinguish me from apartment hunters who don’t have parents to rely on or budgets that can be stretched.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the competition: I’ve got to get this place! That other guy just screams “previous evictions”—I’m a shoe-in! I know I have a small advantage, even though the landlords I’ve encountered look at me as if I have a big advantage. My current landlord took the standard $25 from B and I for a credit check that we later learned she never ran. I somehow doubt she would have been so trusting if we weren’t white (and she’s Latina, so there’s all kinds of crazy race stuff going on here).
In the end, I signed a lease on a tiny but charming place in that vast and eclectic stretch of land known as “Mid-City.” As with most places in most cities, I can go a couple of blocks in either direction and feel alternately afraid for my purse or like I should have worn a cooler brand of jeans. Or I can stay in and relax in my brand new shoebox and pretend I live in New York or Tokyo. But for all its issues, I kinda like LA.