My First Apartment | Income restrictions prove to be obstacle in housing search

December 24, 2013

Macy Freeman will chronicle her search for her first apartment in D.C.

Despite being 15 years apart, my sister Airis and I have always been close. While I was growing up in Ohio she was away in college, so we got our first opportunity to live together as adults when I graduated from Howard University in the May 2012.

Macy Freeman
Macy Freeman

I couldn’t have been more excited and nervous all at the same time. Like a lot of new graduates, I hadn’t lined up a job yet and had no plans for graduate school, but I was hopeful my hard work in school would pay off. Eventually, it did. After working part time for The Washington Post, I landed a full-time job as an editorial aide last April.

Before I could even think of living in D.C. again, my sister and I moved in with her best friend in Waldorf. We stayed in the basement of her friend’s two-story house, and there I shared the downstairs living room space with my sister’s 6-year-old Labrador Retriever. I didn’t always mind. Staying up late talking to my sister and sharing laughs felt like an extended sleep over most days.

But somehow, it just didn’t feel quite like home.

I spent countless mornings waking up to the incessant barking of Airis’s friend’s cute, but often-disruptive dogs (a Pekingese and a Shih Tzu and Poodle mix). It was almost enough to turn a dog lover into a cat person.

The biggest issue I had though was with my commute to work. My sister’s friend graciously allowed me to use her 1997 Honda Accord, and each morning I would head out for a 30-minute drive to the nearest Metro station. I would then ride the train for nearly an hour before finally reaching work.

Eventually I just couldn’t take the long, monotonous routine, so it didn’t take long for me to realize it was time to find a place of my own.

I set out looking for an apartment with a friend from school. We set appointments and visited apartments in D.C. and Maryland. We combed through the pages of an apartment book we’d picked up and also searched online.

The first apartment we both fell in love with was also one of the first we visited. It was everything I had in mind: two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a decent-sized functional kitchen and a living room space big enough for entertaining but not so big that it required a lot of furnishing. This dream apartment we’d looked at also turned out to be income restricted. For us, that meant that while two recent college graduates couldn’t afford to stay there alone, we made too much to stay there together.

With rising rents and the steady conversion of apartments to condos, affordable housing units have been disappearing in the city. The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development says that nearly half of D.C. residents spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing in fiscal year 2012. And, in fact, many low-income people spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing. Income-restricted housing is aimed at helping low-income people — who otherwise would be priced out of the rental market — find affordable housing close to where they work.

To qualify for the two-bedroom income-restricted apartment that we looked at, according to the department’s rules, a couple or two friends seeking to live together must earn a minimum of $43,000, and their combined income must not exceed $52,000.

While this program is worthy, it would leave us out in the cold. During our initial searches, my friend and I were unable to find anything else that seemed to measure up to that first apartment.

Since graduating I’ve been longing for a space of my own to match my newfound feeling of independence. Above everything else I’ve wanted the peace that can come from having a space of my own to call home.

I’m learning that it’s not always that easy to find.

Macy L. Freeman is an editorial aide for the Weekend/Going Out Guide section at The Washington Post.
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