FALLING AWAKE | There goes the neighborhood

I was remembering something I heard the other day. Two women were sitting on the bus discussing how much our downtown has changed. “When they tore down the Lusty Lady,” one of them said, “I thought to myself, now there goes the neighborhood.”

I whipped out my pen. This probably crosses all kinds of old-school lines for some, but when I see or hear something that affects me passionately, I don’t reach for my phone. I’m a writer. I don’t see the point of not writing. There’s still something to be said for letting emotional reactions fill the pages of a notebook. When friends shoot me an emoji, I always think, please, please, tell me how you feel.

The last time I overheard something so wonderfully-savable was in the women’s lounge at Nordstrom’s. “I’m not doing eyelash extensions,” one woman said to another, “I have a lot of self-doubt. But not about my eyelashes.”

I was all ears. Excessively-long eyelashes are everywhere lately, so I love it when someone has the guts to push back against the latest trend that makes us feel like our faces are a problem to be fixed.

My friends and I talk a lot about this, how sometimes we just have to push back against popular trends, beauty and otherwise, when we know things have gone too far.

Incidentally, I pushed back this morning. At 2:10 a.m. I pounded on my neighbor’s door.

Wait, did I say “neighbor?” Because I don’t have a neighbor. I used to have a neighbor. His name was Dean. We shared a wall for a six years. We looked out for each other. I was surprised, outraged, when his landlord served him notice in order to turn his apartment into a vacation-rental.

Now, instead of a neighbor, I have VRBO/Airbnb renters.

Apartment by apartment, my Belltown building has become less of a vertical neighborhood and more of a hotel. Unfortunately, people tend to party late in hotels, even on a weeknight. Now imagine the neighbors who live one door down who need to go to work in the morning.

I was working in San Francisco when vacation rental regulations were a city-wide debate. In the Mission, I went to listen to a group of Latino hotel workers talk about losing their hotel jobs. Not to work in hotels, not to have hotel jobs, is an incomprehensible way to live for these working people. VRBO is affecting their livelihood in ways — many ways — that I hadn’t thought about.

Talk about things that happen coincidentally. On my way home, I stopped at a bar in Noe Valley where a man argued, “No one’s going to tell me I can’t rent my place in the city by the week while I’m at my ranch in Wyoming.” And it struck me how his statement summed up perfectly all the contradictions and inequities of contemporary life. How those with less charmed lives, without a spare house, or even a spare room, still need to work in exchange for a paycheck. 

Still, I doubt the man who is buying up condos in our building in order to turn them into short-term rentals would consider himself someone who is contributing to the lack of affordable housing in Seattle, but, in a less talked-about way, he is. And it’s funny, because the Airbnb promotional materials like to boast how you get to live “in a real neighborhood.”

The trend is everywhere.

When my friend and her infant son needed to find an apartment on the Olympic Peninsula, there were only four long-term rentals available in her town. Yet, on the same town’s vacation-rental websites, there are literally hundreds of listings.

And, try as I might, I cannot see a neighborhood in that.

MARY LOU SANELLI is a poet, speaker, and author of nonfiction. Her collection of essays, “A Woman Writing,” is available from Aequitas Books. She can be reached at www.marylousanelli.com.