Have you heard? We are in the midst of an affordable housing crisis here in the states. I’m not sure what it’s like in other parts of the world but around the Pacific Northwest there is some serious stress about finding quality housing at prices that you can still afford to eat (and you KNOW how I feel about hunger!)
Why affordable housing as a single mom is tough
I’m sure it’s pretty obvious that finding quality housing as a single parent is not easy. You have one income and children to provide for. Statistically, single mothers make up 80% of all single-parent households, 30% of those households were food insecure and 34% were living below the poverty line. One of the measurements of poverty is called “severe housing cost burden” where your housing costs more than ½ your income. That’s true for 30% of single mothers. And I know it was true for me when I first started out.
There was a huge portion of my income that had to go to pay for housing when I first became a single mother. The first year and a half I lived with someone who I shared bills with and that was the best strategy for me at the time. It’s not one that everyone thinks of but having a roommate or renting a room/space in someone’s home is a viable option.
When sharing space is not an option
After sharing space for a period of time I had to part ways with my friend and get out on my own. It was my first time looking for housing by myself. At this point, I had several things going for me which I want to detail here because they made all the difference.
I had a full-time job and while I was making less than $9/hour it was steady and I made tips. These tips were not guaranteed but they did provide a little extra sometimes. I was receiving child support regularly. Getting that in place and coordinated through the state (as I outline here) was really important for my quality of life. I had negotiated in my divorce to keep the car we had shared (I paid off the loan on it with a tax refund). I could easily have caved and let him keep that car but I stood my ground and made that one of the pivotal things I kept.
Research is the key to finding affordable housing
I also happen to be the queen of research. And boy did I research! I looked at all the ads, drove around to all the apartment complexes, got information from the state housing authority and finally found the nicest low-income housing I could qualify for it and applied. I remember when I got that approval and boy was I excited!
The other thing that was really key? I didn’t apply for a two-bedroom. That would have been GREAT! But I looked at my bills I knew I would have (phone, power, gas for the car, daycare, and food) and pre-calculated what I could afford. The only apartment that was in the nice areas in my price range was a one-bedroom. So that’s what I got.
And I was (and remain) proud as hell of that apartment. I got it on my own! I paid for it by myself and I could make all the rules around how I lived there. My preschooler and I shared a bedroom. I slept on a twin-sized bed that my grandparents gave me and the kiddo had a toddler bed. Having my own room would have been great but it would have moved us to a part of town I didn’t want to live in so I opted for the smaller, nicer space.
Affordable housing requires trade-offs
Whether it’s square-footage or how often you get to eat out, you will have trade-offs. I chose to have a smaller space and a nicer area. In addition, I chose not to have cable tv, go out hardly ever, not shop very often for fun stuff, etc. I used my hourly wage to pay all the bills and get groceries and my tips were for “fun stuff” so we still had the chance to do fun things but it was not at the expense of the bills.