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On the verge

My landlord's about to sell the house I rent, and I'm priced out of the SLO County housing market

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In about six months, my son and I could very well be homeless, living in my car.

Despite what many may think, I am not—contrary to multiple comments on the Nextdoor app—choosing this lifestyle. I am not ruining Laguna Lake by camping lakeside. I am not living in my car just to piss off neighborhoods, nor am I just a lazy person.

I am not a drug addict or welfare recipient, nor do I have a debilitating mental illness.

In fact, I am quite the opposite. I moved to San Luis Obispo in 1995 to attend Cuesta College. I then transferred to Cal Poly. At 22 years old, I had a daughter and had to take on three jobs to make ends meet. While still working full time as a restaurant server, I pursued and received an master's degree in English. I've been teaching at Cuesta and Cal Poly for 16 years. My son and daughter were both born at French Hospital and are products of local schools. My daughter is a junior at Cal Poly, pursuing a degree in construction management.

I have always contributed positively to this town, which I love dearly and of which I fondly consider myself a local: I have volunteered at soup kitchens, made goodie bags for the homeless, gladly allowed people to live with me rent free until they could get on their feet, and have given my last dollar of the month to someone in need.

The house where I currently live is going on the market this summer. I've rented it for three years, and I love my quirky old home. My landlord is wonderful, but due to circumstances out of her control, she has to sell.

I peruse Craigslist and the Cal Poly housing webpage daily, and I make constant contact with friends who might have a place for my son and me to live. I haven't been successful.

From Atascadero to Grover Beach, I am priced out of even one-bedroom apartments. According to RentCafe, a 785-square-foot one-bedroom here is typically priced at $2,177. Furthermore, according to The Tribune, local rental costs have risen by 50 percent since 2013.

I work full time as a lecturer at Cal Poly and Cuesta. Honestly, if I include the grading and prepping I do at home, I probably work 50 or more hours a week. Sadly, this schedule doesn't leave me much time to get another job. The fact that Cal Poly has been slow in keeping our salaries in accordance with inflation doesn't make it easier. And for the first time since I began teaching at Cuesta, I lost a class this semester due to low enrollment.

Some may say, "Lay off the coffee you buy every morning, and don't eat out so much." Well, I don't do these things. My salary goes to rent, groceries, bills, and my son's bills, which are considerable because he has special needs.

I am not alone. Many of my friends are living paycheck to paycheck, as do 59 percent of adult Americans, according to USA Today.

In addition, I look horrible on paper. I'm a single mom (I've learned that many landlords avoid renting to single parents). I have a terrible credit score because I haven't had a credit card in almost 15 years (sorry, I don't buy into living on credit—I live on what I earn), and my student loans are in default (even though I've signed up for three loan forgiveness programs, all of which have been shut down or stalled under the Trump administration) because they want me to pay $1,500 a month, which I cannot afford in any way. Yet, my former landlords will praise me as an ideal tenant.

I've had people tell me to just move to a different state or get a new job. This kind of advice baffles me: If I moved to another state, I would lose custody of my son and leave my daughter behind, and my kids are my everything. I also love my job, and I'm good at it—I've been named Lecturer of the Year by the California Faculty Association in 2013 and the Terrance Harris Excellence in Mentorship award in 2018. I'm one of the few Americans who are completely satisfied with their career choice.

I always knew I'd never be able to afford to buy a house in San Luis Obispo County, but I never expected to not be able to pay rent. I'm not alone. Countless comments I've encountered during City Council meetings and on Facebook detail how unaffordable the housing situation has become. Promises are being made and ideas thrown about. (I love the idea that in SLO, homeowners can build tiny houses, for example. But how much will they charge for said houses? Probably more than most can afford.)

It's one thing for college kids to share a house with 10 other people to make rent, but it's another for a 43-year-old single mother of two children. Even so, for the past 10 years, I've had roommates to help pay rent.

So when you look at me—a successful employee, a devoted mother, a contributing member of our community—you are looking at someone on the verge of being homeless. It's so easy to judge those living on the streets, but all it takes is one financial setback, and families can't afford to live in the area. It's even easier to assume that homeless people did something incredibly wrong with their lives and that they somehow deserve to live on the streets.

I am one of the myriad faces of wealth inequality. I am one of the faces of our city's housing inflation. I am like many of you. If you think differently, look at me. Look me in the eyes and tell me I haven't done all I can. Δ

Courtney Brogno is looking for an affordable place to rent. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a response for publication and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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