Living the Dream

Zach Dischner/Flickr

So, I am a recent arrival to our nation’s capital. A wonderful move for me, but not without its challenges. As a baby lawyer, I had always heard about the long hours most young associates at big firms in big cities had to put in. But I only met a few — probably because they were too busy.

After practicing at a small Cleveland maritime boutique for a few years, I chose to live in the idyllic resort town of Hood River, Oregon. The employees at our local brewery (Full Sail) wore staff shirts with the phrase “Living the Dream” under the logo. My schedule depended on the seasons. During the spring and fall, I would mountain bike on the Post Canyon trail system. In the winter, I would start my day with first tracks up on Mt. Hood, where each night we would get about six inches of fresh powder. On epic days, we would give children skipping school first chair; “we” being the enabling professionals in town living the dream and doing our best to encourage the next generation that there was more to life than work. In the summers, I would schedule my appearances in the morning before rigging my windsurfer for the nuclear winds that would pick up in the. The cost of living was much less than in the District. When my house sitting gig here ended, I came to understand that the District is not the friendliest place for those wanting to live the dream of hard work and hard play.

Having just started my first temporary job in the District, my property manager offered to let me use my previous year’s tax returns instead of providing my most recent pay stubs – a generous offer. But the tax returns of an attorney and political activist living the dream in the Wild West came nowhere near my property management company’s income threshold.

As anyone who is familiar with the Windows operating system knows however, sometimes you have to be a little bit tricky to get things to go your way. The management company required stubs from two pay periods. Fearing this meant bi-weekly or monthly proof of employment, I was looking at two months of living back in the hostel while I got the required documentation. Fortunately, my agency paid me every week. After two weeks, I had the stubs required, which were dutifully accepted and I was in. No more communal living. Now that is living the dream for someone without a place to live.
So, do not be discouraged by any insurmountable hurdles to housing. Ask questions and bold. After all, the landlord needs to fill the unit.

That being said – 30 percent of one’s net income is considered a reasonable budget for rent. But as a temporary employee, there are no civil service protections, no union steward, no guaranteed severance, no notice of termination… nothing. What happens when a project ends? What happens if it takes a while to get another project? A week or two off could mean that 50 percent, 70 percent or even 100

percent of my income must go to rent, making living in the District completely unaffordable. Yet that is the status of thousands of young professionals and others employed on a temporary basis in the District. We are all only a few short weeks away from eviction notices.

The stress, relative to that of a country lawyer, is off the charts. Now I get it But is that the way it has to be?

There won’t be much windsurfing or for me, but that’s okay. No one can take away my ability to sail in double mast high waves. Besides, I’ve got more important things to accomplish. But what about the artists and the musicians? And what about those without the blessings that have been bestowed upon me? What about the handicapped or those who have been discriminated against as a class? Do we want to live in a society where not everyone is allowed to live their dream in the District?

Recently, the Supreme Court came down with a significant housing opinion. In the coming months I would like to share with you what our Constitution guarantees and why there is hope for those who still need a place to live. There is hope. We can all achieve our dreams. The law will enable us to do it, we just have to know what it is and work it.

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