Write of Way by Mary Lou Sanelli

Wednesday, November 01, 2017 11:47 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

There Goes the Neighborhood

I was remembering something I heard the other day. Two women were sitting on the bus discussing how much Seattle has changed. “When they tore down the Lusty Lady,” one of them said, “I thought to myself, now there goes the neighborhood.”

I whipped out my pen. This probably crosses all kinds of old-school lines for some, but when I see or hear something that affects me, I don’t reach for my phone. I’m a writer. I don’t see the point of not writing. There’s still something to be said for letting emotional reactions fill the pages of a notebook.

Then I overheard: “No, I’m not doing eyelash extensions. I have a lot of self-doubt. But not about my eyelashes.” 

I was all ears. Excessively-long eyelashes are everywhere lately, so I love it when someone has the guts to push back against the latest trend that makes us feel like our faces are a problem to be fixed.

My friends and I talk a lot about this, how sometimes we just have to push back against popular trends, beauty and otherwise, when we know things have gone too far.

Take this morning. At two in the morning I pushed back. I pounded on my neighbor’s door.

Wait, did I say “neighbor?” Because I don’t have a neighbor. I used to have a neighbor. His name was Dean. We shared a wall for a six years. We looked out for each other. I was surprised, outraged, when his landlord served him notice in order to turn his apartment into a vacation-rental. 

Apartment by apartment, my Belltown building has become less of a vertical neighborhood and more of a hotel.

I was working in San Francisco when vacation rental regulations were a city-wide debate. In the Mission, I went to listen to a group of Latinos talk about losing their hotel jobs. Not to work in hotels, not to have hotel jobs, is an incomprehensible way to live for these working people. VRBO/Airbnb is affecting their livelihood in ways — many ways — that I hadn’t thought about.

Talk about coincidence. On my way home, I stopped at a bar in Noe Valley where a man argued, “No one’s going to tell me I can’t rent my place in the city by the week while I’m at my ranch in Wyoming.” 

Now, there were at least three other things this man said that made me see how his argument summed up perfectly all the contradictions and inequities of contemporary life. How those with less charmed lives, without a spare house, or even a spare room, still need to work in exchange for a paycheck.  

Still, I doubt the man who is buying up condos in our building in order to turn them into short-term rentals would consider himself someone who is contributing to the lack of affordable housing, but, in a less talked-about way, he is. And it’s funny, because the Airbnb promotional materials like to boast how you get to live “in a real neighborhood.”

The trend is everywhere.

When my friend and her infant son needed to find an apartment in Port Townsend, there were only four long-term rentals available. Yet, on the same town’s vacation-rental websites, there are hundreds of listings.

And, try as I might, I cannot see a real neighborhood in that.

Mary Lou Sanelli

Sanelli, author and speaker, lives in Belltown. Visit www.marylousanelli.com

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