Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Putting Lipstick on a Pig

I'm home today because I feel like hell and I have a mountain of laundry to do and my daughter has a dentist appointment (she's home from college for the summer) which I was going to take her to, but I will probably ask my mom to take her. Did I mention I feel awful, cuz I do, which means I'll more than likely be washing just enough clothes to get me through the rest of this week and the devil take hindmost.

So that's why I was home and flipping past the local FOX News Channel and stopped long enough to hear about Laure Quinlivan's efforts to improve Cincinnati's Brand Image.

And all I could think was: are you fucking serious?

Because I've been looking for an apartment in Cincinnati and I've come to the conclusion that the entire city is a ghetto. There are places that are livable but affordable housing is a laugh and the people of Cincinnati deserve better than an another lipstick on a pig project that improves the very heart of the downtown corridor but doesn't do shit to help any of the neighborhoods.

Everywhere I go that looks plausible, the rent is just a little out of reach of my 12 bucks an hour with no benefits, especially with gas at well over $3.50 a gallon. I know it's a cardinal sin to tell how much you make but it is what it is. I'm not rich and never have been. Truth to tell, I'm fairly poor, live with my mom and neither me or my daughter would be in school without student loans. So now you know.

And, like many people, I'm trying to move closer into the city, but finding a place is...difficult.

So I'm working at this wonderful internship and compared to work study slave-a-wage at 8.00 bucks an hour, maximum 20 hours a week unless you're one of the favored few who luck up on an "exception" position, 12 bucks an hour was hell yea, please sir, I want some more wages.

And what's even better, I absolutely love where I work, which honestly, makes almost any amount of money cool. But...

...I've been trying to find a place to live and every financial advice website I've read recommends that your rent should NEVER be more than 1/3 of what you make. Mind you while most apartments, when reviewing your income to see if you "qualify" to live there, will take your gross salary to do that, which is the only way they could possibly have tenants.

At any rate, if I follow the advice of the financial gurus, I can afford rent of up to a maximum of $466 a month.

I actually found a place on Main, which was really the low end of McMicken, for $400 bucks a month. It was an enormous two-bedroom townhouse, with a large living room, dining area and kitchen. Hell, that's a place to live that will fit all my stuff with $66 left over.

But I have a dog and they don't accept pets. And I'm scared to live as a single woman without a dog in a part of town where, when I went to talk to one of the neighbors, he said things are not so bad now that "Task Force" patrols regularly.

Hurray for Cincinnati Law Enforcement but damn. You are actually making your citizens feel safer. But damn. Just damn. I just don't know if I can do it.

So even with Task Force protecting my potential castle, that still doesn't solve the problem of my dog. Now why do I have a dog if I can barely afford to take care of myself? Well the dog is a remnant from my old life where my salary was well more than $12 bucks and hour and included health insurance. From the days where I never envisioned walking up to my office and the doors being locked and never hearing from my bosses again.

So I have a dog. And I either have to find her another home, which would break her heart and mine, so I can have an affordable place to live on my own, in a neighborhood I'm not so sure of, or maybe dig into my budget a little deeper.

Which brings me to the two-bedroom place I found in Elmwood for $580 a month. It's actually a nice place, painted in a dusky lavender with crisp white trim; carpeted downstairs and hardwood floors upstairs that were varnished and polished to a mirror shine. The outside dumpster was fairly contained except for two mattresses haphazardly tossed against it. The neighbors I spoke to were politely curious as to whether I was really moving in. The neighborhood was pretty much the same I've seen everywhere, struggling to fill the business district and a little worse for the wear. The street, a side street bordered by railroad tracks, was fairly quiet but the apartment was not.

I visited the place 3 times, and each of the three times, the neighbors next door were blaring music loud enough that the lyrics were clear through the walls and the bass vibrated under my feet. The best I can say is that they share my taste in music - if I were 20 years younger - and if I listened to music at top volume all day long.

I talked to the landlord about it but he said they were "good tenants" who paid their rent on time which quite literally meant: They can play music at any volume they want as long as they pay their rent and he couldn't care less.

So the affordable place won't take my dog (and I'm kinda scared to live there, sorry but it's true), the barely affordable place will take my dog but has neighbors that seemed nice enough but are either deaf or just loud because they can be, and every place in between was decidedly undesirable.

However, I spent some time wishing on a star and looking at places that were decidedly out of my league just to see how the other half lived. Places that were as much as 650 or even 700 dollars. Woah.

And even there, it wasn't all that hot, just slightly better kept than the affordable and barely affordable places. Sidewalk cracks are choked with weeds and potholes abound on the roads. Several streets have street repair going on, but it's all very haphazard, as if someone just pointed at a map and said let's fix this street this month.

And even where I work, which is for a global company with over 100 offices in over 40 countries, the surroundings immediately outside the building are best described as crappy. And they have a fairly posh address for Downtown Cincinnati. Yet and still, the nearby parking garage is scary, leaky and a co-worker recently found that lime is eating the painting off her car. The elevator is best avoided and frequently smells of urine despite the fact that I've seen the people who work there mop it several times a day.

The walk to work or even to grab a quick bite for lunch is over chipped, cracked pavements and views of rust streaked walls. Looking up at the buildings shows ravaged skywalks to nowhere and lots of abandoned store fronts, many of which have the look of a business that tried to make it there and failed or, hopefully, moved on.

Just thinking about my recent apartment search and my daily treks to work, I can't help but wonder why we neglect the true core of our city- the neighborhoods- and how anyone can think it's ok to spend all our time (and money) trying to improve the image of Cincinnati without doing the work of actually improving Cincinnati.

Yes, the City of Cincinnati has a lot going for it, but it could have a lot more if people didn't have to live in barely habitable conditions rather than neighborhoods that are not only safe from crime, but don't attract it in the first place by looking like the perfect set for an episode of Law and Order SVU.

Until we put more effort into actually improving Cincinnati instead of merely improving the "image" of Cincinnati, we're only putting lipstick on a pig.

Could someone go to Laure Quinlivan's forum today at 12Noon and tell her that? Because honestly, I feel too lousy to go.

Updated: I really felt awful earlier and there were more typos in this than I've ever been known to produce so I've updated it a bit for clarity and to correct earlier spelling which was, frankly, atrocious.


  1. Great writeup, thanks for sharing! I think if the city can't offer options(ie a selection that will suite peoples particular needs) for affordable housing that can keep people feeling safe, then any 'revitalization' won't amount to much more than little islands of yuppies - excuse me: 'YPs'- in their condos.

  2. http://cincinnati.craigslist.org/apa/2396174092.html
    Dogs OK & right on a busline
    Rents are high everywhere & it sucks because, if you have the downpayment, you can buy a house in Cincinnati for the price of rent -- but how do you save the money for the downpayment when you have to spend so much on rent?
    Anyway, if you can afford it, you can just rebuild a house.

  3. Awwww...That was so sweet of you to spend your time looking on Craigslist for me.

    But believe me hon, I've run the gamut: Craigslist, PadMapper, HotPads, and plain just getting out a map and driving up and down every single street in every possible neighborhood that was anywhere near where I was trying to live.

    Honestly though...as much as this seems to be a mini-rant about my renting difficulties, it's more a diatribe about what the problem is with Cincinnati. That we care more about how we "appear" than how we actually are. Far too many people want to forget the race riots ever happened. I can't think how many white writers I've read that are more appalled by the perception that the riots define Cincinnati than even really caring why tthey happened in the first place; and they also remain completely unaware that a lot of the reasons they happened have never been addressed. They seem to be aware that Cincinnati has a reputation for being "racist", but they patently deny that the reputation Cincinnati has earned is deserved and they are wrong.

    Our City Council remains willfully blind to the needs of every day people and neglect our neighborhoods shamefully, preferring to spend money in the richer and whiter parts of town or just plain sinking cash into downtown. And while writing this has given me more of an appreciation for what's been done downtown, lest the city become a complete hole, I can't help but think we're doing it wrong. Investing in buildings first and people second is backwards. Invest in people and people will, in turn, invest in their city.


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