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UPDATED: How apartment hunting in DC made me a Strong White Woman

Jun 2, 2011

It's been a while since I've written a blog post, mainly because work has gotten incredibly busy (in a good way) and I've been trying to find a place to live.



When I found out The Roomie was moving out of the country in June, I thought, This will be okay.  Students will be graduating and going home for the summer so lots of one bedrooms in the best neighborhoods in DC will be opening up.  And since I'm 30 and have job stability (sort of), it's time to be a grown up and live on my own.  Perfect timing!

But as I began my search, I found it was way worse than the past two times I've gone apartment hunting in DC. O. M. G.  I will have moved THREE TIMES in TWO YEARS

The first place I looked at was an English basement near Saint Ex.  Terrific neighborhood, I thought. Maybe I can convince myself not to be claustrophobic in exchange for the location.  When I arrived six others were waiting. Ten minutes went by and the crowd accumulated on the sidewalk (final count: 11).  The landlord, who required photo IDs to enter and had our names on a list, herded us down into the basement, which does not fit 11 people comfortably.  I willed myself not to be claustrophobic, to think it was a steal and to write that $50 application fee check on the spot so I wouldn't have to do this for the next month.  But alas, the mirrored walls did not make it feel "open," and the bathroom smelled of vinegar yet was not clean.  I made my way to the exit, pressing my body against the wall as others squeezed past me to the large closet, er, I mean bedroom.  On my way out I passed two girls with applications in hand, waiting in line to give them to the landlord. 

Just wait, Mary El.  There'll be something better, I told myself.  But deep down I feared this was one, big, vinegary omen.

Over the next couple of weeks I cancelled all my social engagements to focus on finding a place to live.  I scoured Craigslist, and local realtor websites.  I went to see a "surprisingly sunny" English basement in Dupont that was neither sunny nor should be considered an actual apartment.  The landlord cheerfully suggested I not use the backdoor and push my bed up against that wall instead so I would have room to walk.  For $1850?  Uh, no.  (It's still listed if that sounds appealing to you.) 

I rode my bike to the outskirts of my neighborhood comfort zone and called every building that I passed, but most of them didn't accept dogs.  Just when I'd begun considering a studio, I found a truly charming one bedroom across from a park with hardwood floors and arched entranceways and plenty of space for $1650 a month, utilities included!  Was it too good to be true?  I put in my application, about two minutes before someone else did, and the leasing agent told me she would hold it for me since I applied first. 

So, for the past month, I thought everything was cool.  They put me through the ringer, as if I was buying the place, but everything was checking out fine.  Which of course means something bad happened.

Yesterday the leasing agent emailed me: "I'm sorry to inform you that the landlord has rejected your application.  Let me know if I can assist you in finding another place."

My head began to spin.  Was something wrong with my credit?  No, couldn't be.  My credit is better now than it has been in years, and I've never been rejected before.  Did they do a background check and find out I almost got arrested for walking through the fountain at the Sculpture Garden?  That would just be stupid.  What could it be?  I make enough money to cover the rent, I've proven I can pay bills on time, I'm living in a really nice building now, so why in the world would they reject me?

All these thoughts were zipping through my head as I woefully pulled up Craigslist to see if any new places had been listed.  And there it was, right at the top of the page, the apartment relisted for $150 more.

All I could do was say the word reserved for token black guys in teen movies: "Mutha F***a." 

My back-up plan of desperation was to find a roommate, and I had one in mind.  It would only be four more months till my lease was up, and then I could renew with her or go through all this again.  I stopped by the leasing office after work and inquired about keeping my apartment even though we'd given our 30 days notice of vacancy.

"Sure, no problem!" the girl behind the desk said.  "Oooh, except I see here we've already rented it.  But you can move into another two bedroom, just will be $400 more a month than what you're paying now."


"Or you can move into a one bedroom, we have two right now that are only $1800." 

Tail end of my price range, but doable, I thought.

"Oh shoot, we already leased those out.  But we have another one coming up for $2300!"


I was supposed to go to a happy hour with Sassy Marmalade, A Single Girl, Date Me DC and Dating DC, but instead I cried.  They weren't tears of sadness, defeat or even frustration -- they were tears of anger.  Deep down I knew the Lord would work it out, He has something better, I just need to depend on Him...but I was still angry, for two reasons: 1) I'm tired of this character-building life lesson and 2) I'm pretty sure that greedy landlord is breaking some sort of DC real estate law and he/she thinks he/she will get away with it because I'm not privy to what is going on.  Oh I'm privy. I'm ALL kinds of privy.  I have lawyer friends and Google on my side, and I'm about to get my PRIVY ON.

While I was still crying, before all the priviness, I suddenly decided going for a run was the best thing to do.  I haven't been on a run since last summer when I sprained my ankle.  The ankle still hasn't healed and I figured I'd never run again.  But this was one thing I had control over, and I desperately needed to be able to control something in my life at that moment. 

Ankle be damned! I cheered in my head.  It's going to be messed up forever anyway, might as well burn calories while I still have my knees!

So I dug my running shorts out of my "rarely wear" bin, found my Nikes in the back of my closet and got to the elevator before I could think it through.  As soon as my foot hit the sidewalk I went for it.  I ignored the pain in my ankle, then my other ankle, then my shins splitting apart, then my compensating knees screaming in protest and my back immediately following as I forced my shoulders back, and soon after the cramps set in, in my abs.  I ignored it all.  And you know what?  After a while I didn't notice it anymore.  When I got home I was dripping sweat and felt totally empowered to take on this housing situation.  Plus I swear my abs were tighter and my arms and legs looked more toned. 

I promise to never make this face again, but it felt like the right thing to do at the moment.

She's smiling because she's afraid of how insane I'm acting.

So anyway, the point to all this is to let you know why I've been kind of MIA, and also to not mess with me when it's 100 degrees outside, because I will break out the Strong White Woman on you too.

I just need to catch my breath first.

*NOTE* Sassy Marmalade asked "How many pictures did you have to take to get these?" 
The answer is eight.  :)


At the request of a reader, Shozzle, I'm clarifying the "Strong White Woman" part of this blog.  You see, my dear friend Yves-Marie, who happens to be a Strong Black Woman, often makes fun of me for having White Girl Problems.  The first time I complained to her about my sprained ankle, she replied, "You know what happens when a black woman's hand gets cut off?  She says, 'I don't have time for this; I gotta go pick up my babies.'  You need a shot of SBW (Strong Black Woman)."

(I looked up #WhiteGirlProblem on Twitter today, and here are a few others to put it in context:

@mepper (that's me): I have to choose between #NKOTBSB and @britneyspears this summer. Worst #WhiteGirlProblem EVER.

@fulpakru:  I'll pack tomorrow because I want to drink wine tonight and drunk packing NEVER works out well for me. #whitegirlproblem

@ghostcatmusic: Wahhhhh it's raining horseback ride's been cancelled! #whitegirlproblem

@M_Ruddriguez: I just spent way too much money on flip-flops, but it's not my fault! My feet literally reject anything but Havaianas. #whitegirlproblem)

So when I got so angry that I ran on my main white girl problem, I decided I am a Strong White Woman. 

The kicker is she called me this week sounding very sad: "I have a white girl problem.  I sprained my ankle while running this morning."

HA!  Now she knows how hard it is being a white woman.  So I think she needs a shot of Strong White Woman.  No?  Yes? 


  1. LOVE always your posts are so fun to read. Your an inspiration to the rest of us wannabe bloggers! :-)

  2. I didn't know you'd started a blog! Hoorah! You're not a wannabe, you are legit!

  3. I know this has been a tough couple of days and a stressful few don't take this the wrong way...but this post basically had me laughing so hard that in the middle of it I had to get up and close my office door.

  4. Alright, so, about the greedy landlord...

    I can't find anything that says DC provides tenants protection from this. However, contact them and find out WHY you were rejected. If it was a money thing, it may have been a mistake, in which case you're golden.

    If they can't give you a straight answer, you may have a discrimination case. But if that's it, you don't want to live there anyway.

    Good luck with the search, lady. We were looking too, and got so frustrated with it we just decided to renew where we are. It's a total pain, looking.

  5. did i miss something in the post particular to being white? just wondering why your post was about being a strong white woman besides just a strong woman? (u know i'm not the type to make race any sort of issue, i'm not offended or anything, i'm just seriously wondering if missed something)

  6. Omg, I love you. You're so dang funny!!

  7. Thanks for the kind words ladies! As for Shozzle, I went back and read it, and you're right, I didn't explain the Strong White Woman very well. I wrote this post after my fit of rage running and was falling asleep near the end of it. Will update tomorrow with explanatory details.

  8. I just went through the housing search and it was literally hell on Earth! I've lived here 4yrs and moved 5 times. I think it gets harder each time too.
    Don't worry it will work out :)


  9. Love the redesign! It's awesome!

    Sorry that it's been so frustrating! I hate when leasing agents and landlords play games. I bet the right place is out there for you, but that well-intentioned but seemingly trite comment might not be what you need to here. And, I feel like DC becomes crabby central when it's 90 degrees with 90% humidity.

    Keep reminding yourself that you're strong because you are! xoxo

  10. @City Girl: Thank you! Someone told me it makes me look like your sister (when comparing headers). :) Still playing around with the design a little -- you'll have to come to the official redesign party next month! (haven't set date yet but will soon)

  11. Hey! I’ve been busy looking for a new apartment on, and took a break to google some blogs referencing apartment hunting, came across yours, and had to thank you for the laughs! I hope by now your search has ended with you finding the perfect place (and I hope that is how mine will end too!)! Thanks again for the mental break. :)

  12. Tina, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Hang in there, lady. You'll get through it. And if you don't, you can always start up your own Occupy movement and live in a tent!

  13. There are lessons to be learned from other people's first hand experiences. These tips and pointers will be useful for first time apartment hunters.

  14. Apartment hunting in a big city can really be very difficult. Your experience in dealing with this is an inspiration to others who are currently in a similar situation. Thanks for sharing.