It took me precisely one hour on a Saturday afternoon to begin then quickly conclude my apartment hunting. The day began beautifully. I dropped by at work and made my way to the mecca, also known as Plaza Midwood, where the hipsters thrive and the walkable tree-lined streets welcome you like a scene out of Pleasantville.
There was not a drop of naivete in my blood. I knew staying in the vicinity would require shelling out quite a bit of cash for the zip code, but I'd save money on Uber rides, I resolved. Plus, my commute would be cut in half and I'd feel once again like I belonged to an evolving city, where sidewalks reign (not unlike my notoriously un-sidewalked community in University City. Who the hell plans these things anyway?).
My attitude was optimistic and buoyant. I could do another year, I reasoned, paying some faceless developer a monthly fee to live in his luxury accommodations with all the necessary complements a twenty-something lifestyle requires: instant, single friends (mostly white with the one racially-ambiguous brown girl on the leasing brochure) to enjoy the communal pool and fire pit; a coffee bar for those late nights staying up to mastermind a financial strategy that includes rent, 401k, bi-weekly nail appointments, hot yoga, CrossFit, pressed juices and hypothetical children. And, of course, a sense of privilege in a community painstakingly bereft of folks in my melanin grouping to share residence. I'd be happy. Poor. But happy, nonetheless.
And then, the leasing agent happened. Overly enthusiastic about convincing me to toss my money at LED vanity lights, granite countertops and the makings of an adulthood packed into 500 square feet of commitment deferred, she led me on a tour of gentrification in action.
She ran the numbers, and I subconsciously ran out of excuses as to why I needed to dedicate the majority of my paycheck to serve my lofty desire for status over a zero-balance student loan account: the app fee of $149; the admin fee of $250; the security deposit of $250; and lastly, a monthly price tag of $1,200 to rent self-respect — not including valet trash (these jerks don't pick up the recycling), the internet, or the $25 monthly parking fee.
Even in holding down a full-time job, hustling freelance articles and my grandfather graciously sliding me a $50 every time I see him, I don't feel easy about footing the bill at rates I worked hard to escape during my time in New York City.
And on that matter, I am further concerned about the growing displacement affecting brown communities being taken over in the name of development and progress, exacerbating the sprawl of disenfranchised neighbors relegated to Charlotte's outskirts where access to transportation and healthy food sources are largely inaccessible in a city that's been forced to cap its minimum wage.
Taking that apartment would mean that I'm part of the problem. And yet, I felt left without much choice. I'd suffer the consequences of finding affordability in Charlotte proper, where 34,000 units have gone missing for those living at or below 50 percent of the median area income; or I would adopt the oxymoron of black gentrifier, attributing my presence as a protest in the face of displacement faced by the immigrant and brown communities that once occupied Plaza Midwood, East Charlotte, NoDa, Brightwalk and West Morehead before it all became colonized by the amenities I unabashedly enjoy.
Like with all of my tough choices in need of quick, adult-esque answers in my life, I left the high-strung leasing agent and called my mother.
I am convinced God invented mothers for reasons beyond rearing humans into decency. My mom was made with take-no-prisoners, never-back-down, super juice and blended with the unapologetic ability to tell me to cut the crying and commit to being a grown up.
It was time for a house, to be settled, and to stake my claim in the community I so passionately want to see grow, inclusively, and with those most vulnerable building their lives within the communities they've lived in for generations.
I'll be purchasing Uptown on the line where development has met disinvestment. If I don't do it now, I'll be completely priced out. And I refuse to pay an app fee for a seat at the table.