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Dope Fiend Landlords Thrive in the Housing Crisis

New America Media, Commentary, Charles Jones Posted: Apr 16, 2009



Editors Note: Dope fiend landlords have a long history of renting out rooms in abandoned houses for a minimal fee. But, in todays housing crisis, they are raising prices to near market value. NAM contributor Charles Jones offers advice on how to make the best of this type of living situation.

Dope fiend rentals, or foreclosed/abandoned homes that occupant-drug addicts rent out to generate the income they need to keep themselves high, are a longtime cornerstone of neighborhood life. These not-so-safe havens have boomed since the economic bust.

With our countrys economy in shambles, much has been made of the growing number of home foreclosures nationwide. Many Americans, including some of my friends and family, have been forced out of their homes and into an extremely volatile renters market that was already astronomically expensive in San Francisco. So now dope fiend spots aren't only for drug dealers and addicts.

My mother a homeless, recovering drug addict recently lost her rent-controlled apartment, when her boyfriend of several years died. His was the only name on the lease and when my mother talked to the property owner, he told her that the rent was being raised by $400 a month. Not being able to afford such an extreme increase, my mother simply let the apartment and the majority of her belongings go.

My younger cousin found herself in a similar situation. As she recently celebrated 10 years with the same company and she has received numerous raises and promotions, she thought it was only natural that she should add property owner to her list of achievements. Within two years, she was laid off, nearly broke, officially homeless and willing to pay whatever she could to sleep wherever she could.

My mother suggested that my cousin move into the vacant third bedroom of the house she was living in. My mother thought they could help each other out and watch each others' backs while they were both in such dire straits.

This was smart of them. In my experience, these rental arrangements can be less than ideal and often end badly. Remember you are living with one or more drug addicts.

I was forced into the drug game when my father threw me out at age 17. I needed immediate food, clothing and shelter. Food and clothing are easy there are no age restrictions or requirements on a Whopper with cheese, but I had no fake ID and was too young to rent a room myself -- even the cheapest and seediest of motel rooms.

Rick, a neighborhood drug addict and long-time family friend, noticed me sleeping in a friends car for three nights, and offered me the spare room in his house for $100 a week. The rent was payable in cash, or crack, each Tuesday.

It sounded affordable enough, and I badly needed a place to stay, so I agreed. It was soon after that I learned the rules of the dope fiend rental:

1. Your rent is solely for the use of your living space. All other amenities (food, water and phone) you can, and will be, charged for.

2. Expect the unexpected, in the form of rent increases based on any number of reasons: foot traffic, electricity used, your appearance (the nicer you dress, the more they try to charge), and greed are the most common.

3 Lock your door at all times! Buy a separate lock that only you have the key or combination to. These are drug addicts youre living with, so you cant trust them, which brings me to rule No. 4.

4) Just because you've paid your rent, doesn't mean that the rent has been paid.

My dope fiend rental experience ended as abruptly and awkwardly as it began. I came home one day and discovered that the locks had been changed and all the windows boarded up. I had to break in to retrieve what few belongings I could carry with me. I was furious, as I had just kicked down my rent two days before.

Now that my cousin and mother both live in dope fiend rentals, neither pays anywhere near as little as I did, while I lived with Rick. Gone are the days of $100 and $200 rates, todays doper is keenly aware of the service he provides and is demanding near market rates for his spaces. Some, like the dude my mother and cousin currently live under, use the HUD model and ask for a percentage of my mothers monthly social security income.

Historically, people from the hood in a real need-shelter-now! predicament have never had to look further than the neighborhood doper. Even in todays housing crisis, the dope fiend rental, and the dope fiends who provide them, are thriving.


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Anatomy of a Layoff



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