Trials and tribulations of a house

by wonderfullyrich on May 15, 2008

Man-o-man, housing drama is not fun! For those of you who don’t remember I live in a row house nicknamed 1019 with 8 other people inside the district, within walking distance of the Columbia Height Metro. I’ve now lived in the same house for the nearly 2 years I’ve been in DC, which I think for my demographic and type of job I’m in is rather unusual. I anecdotally tend to observe people arrive, spend a few months somewhere and then move after a year depending.

I really don’t want to move as I love ascetic appeal of the house, the neighborhood, and my proximity to work. That being said, our landlord is not the most affable type in the world. I’m not entirely sure what his thought process is, but we think it’s mostly laziness that’s motivating him rather then malice. Many, many thing have come up over the almost 2 years I’ve been in the house involving the house and it’s maintenance or repairing it–for example having a squirrel burrow under the roof in my room, as well as slightly before my time having a tree fall on the house–which we have documented and recorded and which indicates a pattern of deceit and passing the buck. Frankly I’ve gone from wanting to slam the book on him, to a now more moderate approach of trying to retrieve our deposit and letting his bad practices flop under it’s own weight. I am reminded of my early research into violence where I realized that justice and vengence never work out, they just tend to cause more problems and start a cycle. In this case I just want our house hold back in a relatively sane, less stressed environment.

Nearly a year ago, Andrew and I had a chance to re-envision a house from the ground up, which is fairly unique position to be in. Normally if a person or small group of persons want to build a co-op house they have to find a house at the same time as they form the group, which I can now see would double or triple the amount of problems in people relations such a coop group might have. Last year about this time, all Andrew and I had to deal with was finding housemates as we had the house. I have to say it worked out brilliantly. Not everything was smooth, as it never is, but the people we found and managed to put under a single roof made for a proxy family that has become extremely close.

Unfortunately our landlord sort of sabotaged the coalescence of the coop, insofar as what was left for a good portion of the year was a black cloud of indeterminate legal housing status. The crux of this was our house submitting a signed lease to our landlord, but we’ve never receiving a signed lease back from our landlord. We’ve been operating somewhat haphazardly, trying not to get screwed and trying to repair the relations with our landlord. One of our house hold has a good connection to some useful legal advice and it’s been extremely invaluable to our situation. Without it, I’m rather sure it would have been more of a mess then it is. Still this black cloud has caused stress because we lacked that security of knowing whether or not we will still be living in the same house. Tempers flared (especially mine) and lots of house meetings happened.

It’s been a long trek, but we are basically at the finish line. We now have two houses to choose from after having several hit and missed houses. Unfortunately this comes at a cost. We are loosing one of our family. Actually we’ve lost more then one, as Andrew is now in Burundi and his temporary replacement is not likely to come with us by previous arrangement. The other of our house mates is more unexpected and has bothered me more, as I now find myself feeling like a person in a post break-up state. No doubt we’ll still have him around, and it’s even possible this writing is premature, as he may yet come along to the new house. Still I find myself reflecting and reevaluating past conversations. To much is going on to focus to heavy on this, but I am sad at losing him, rather angry at the situation, and ready for a vacation so I can have a clearer head. (I’m headed to Cyprus for a month with Angela starting Jun 20th)

As always I want to learn from this crisis and period as much as possible and have given thought to what I can improve in community relations next time. I’m rather sure there will be a next time or a rebirth of 1019 later in my life, given as much as I can be lost in my own head, I have come to enjoy and feed off of the social existence of a house hold community. Indeed have abstract plans–that may never come to light–to start a more permanent co-op at some point. One in which the tenants own the property and are able to exist in a more long term relationships.

In terms of 1019 I’ve learned several things in community relations. Most notably is that with 8 people, it’s impossible to make decisions fast if at all. You may think this is rather obvious, but given the predominately consensus oriented people in the house, we opted to try that direction. I’m not even sure we discussed this form of management. At the same time as our housing crunch, I’ve been studying more people management and project management lately both for work and for my future, but it didn’t dawn on me till very recently that we should have created a committee of three or so to handle our landlord and the legal issues, as well as a committee to deal with the house hunt. Being an executive action sort of person, this has been a hard change for me, but I’m beginning to understand how one must learn to embrace failure on the part of managing, encourage autonomy, accept choice without further contemplation, and realize that things that aren’t done my way doesn’t mean they aren’t well done.. Of course this assume that I was managing the house, which I was not. Still it’s been a useful hard knock lesson in community relations and these lessons should be useful to all of us in the future.

Beyond just the cerebral aspect of this I’d also like to report that I feel better equipped and able to handle similar stress in the future. This is another aspect of learning by hard knocks that is useful. I’m very drained, rather generally tired, and more then slightly out of whack in terms of perspective, but I am more optimistic and ready to continue to change the world then even a few years ago. Living in DC has been a wonderful experience and one that I don’t relish leaving in many respects. It’s not happening soon, but just like all of life, it’s been an eye opening and interesting experience, the center of which has been my house hold.

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