Eric, Shamar, and I live in secretly affordable housing. Our very nicely located apartment features two bedrooms, a living room with zero right angles, and a decent backyard with a vegetable garden. When the next door apartment is vacant (which is frequent), we also have roof access. Through Eric's years of living here, we have noticed an extremely hands-off approach by our mysterious building's owner. Empty apartments are not advertised. Rents are not raised to match market levels. As a result, the tenants include but are not limited to: three canvassers, one singer/songwriter, a screenwriter/landscaper, this cool Hispanic dude who sings James Brown songs around noon every day, and this young couple upstairs that likes to shower at the same time as me (seriously... like... no matter what time I shower...). The businesses below us include a huge used book store and liquor store. Yay!
Of course, secretly affordable housing has its downsides. It rains on the back staircase. For a week, it rained on our toilet (I rigged up this sweet umbrella-tent!). Apparently, this weekend it rained on the liquor store. We didn't get the frantic phone calls about breaking down our apartment door to fix the leak because we were all in Kentucky (where telephone has yet to be invented). Plumbers came in through our windows to replace a good ten feet of pipe without us even knowing.
The other major downside of secretly affordable housing is the secret tenants. The outside front door to our building does not lock. Normally, this is convenient because Eric has the only security key, and he rarely knows where it is. Often, though, various drunk people beat us to our morning papers.
KPd.: Um, hi crazy drunk dude at 9am. That's my paper.
CDD: I'm reading it.
KPd.: Yeah but... umm... damnit.
As several of our cohorts are often a small step away from homelessness, we generally tried to come up with creative solutions other than calling the police. Investigation revealed that Montclair has no homeless shelter or policy other than let crazy people stay in secretly affordable housing and only intervene if they wander into single-family neighborhoods. So when the crazy elderly woman peed on the stairs during a snowstorm, Shamar bought bleach and a mop. When the scary dude took off running with our NYTimes, Eric gave chase shirtless and barefoot and cornered him in an alleyway to negotiate.
Eric: Stop stealing our paper, and we won't call the police. Plus, we'll leave the sports section for you after we read it.
Next day: Scary dude stole our paper.
We found that we were not the only left-leaning nonprofit employees trying to double as a homeless shelter. The Unitarian Church and Equality New Jersey (gay marriage) were sharing real estate with two Vietnam vets and four clinically insane guys.
Equality NJ employee: Hey guys. Mind rolling over so I can open the front door?
Vietnam vet: Oh no problem. Good luck man.
The problem finally came to a head two weeks ago when we walked through the Chase Bank parking lot to access our backyard only to hear country music blasting at 11:30pm.
Step 1: Make sure this is not Brian.
Step 2: Call the police.
We did not want to overly stress out the Montclair PD (who were busy staking out Pathmark and offering personal security to CEOs on Mountain Avenue), so we called the non-emergency number.
Eric: There is an intruder playing loud country music in our backyard.
MPD: Where do you live?
Eric: The apartments on Glenridge Avenue.
MPD: We'll send someone when we can.
KPd.: What the fuck?!
We waited over 45 minutes by our back gate while some crazy dude in the yard slept through Achy Breaky Heart at maximum volume. After several follow-up calls, the police finally decided that intoxicated insane people playing the radio in your garden is worth a peek. They obviously knew the guy, asked him to leave, and drove off.
Such is life in secretly affordable housing. I suppose when you pay below-market rent, you can't complain when the police take their time responding to intruder calls. I imagine they needed to keep a car in reserve just in case another drunk boom box call came in from the mansion district.
The next night, at 5am, in the backyard: ...
Radio: Do you beLIEVE in life after love (after love) after love (after love).
As the music boomed in our bedroom, Eric and I couldn't help but start cracking up laughing. At least our crazy drunk radio intruder has a sense of humor.
The police came, again. I'm sure it won't be the last time. But the papers have both been reliably on the doorstep for a while, and we haven't had anyone camping in the backyard since last week. Maybe this means that our rent will go up.