I’ve been somewhat absent online for the last several months. First it was the move, and the frantic last week or so of packing, trucking, and cleaning. Then it was viciously thinning out my stuff to fit comfortably into a place with less than one third of the space of the old one. Since then I’ve just been trying to regain my equilibrium.
I’m still working on that last part. It’s always fun hunting for some tool or spare part you know you have, but which you now can’t find. Usually because it wound up buried at the bottom of some tote behind five other totes of tools and gear in the storage space under the stairs.
But I digress. Things have been less than great in a lot of ways. Moving back into a dry cabin (in Alaska, ‘dry’ means no running water) after having the unbelievable luxury (sarcasm intended) of an indoor toilet, shower, and on-site laundry really drove home the point that poverty is inescapable.
A little bit of background on this situation: 75 to 85% of the rental market geared toward single adults in my area is comprised of dry cabins. Seriously, they’re everywhere. Driving for FedEx outside city limits really drove this home; there are hundreds and hundreds of properties just in the area I delivered that have anywhere from a couple to dozens of ‘dry’ rental cabins.
Those marketing these cabins will say they’re for students or transient summer workers. While those groups do use dry cabins, the reality is that for a large segment of the population, they’re the only housing that’s affordable. Nowhere else are you going to find a place in tolerable condition for less than $1000 a month.
Other affordable options include splitting the rent of two bedroom apartment between multiple roommates, living with family, living in a car or tent, or renting in one of the more dilapidated apartment complexes (where you get to enjoy features such as 1970s-era appliances, black mold, bedbugs, cockroaches, and water damage from leaky roofs and plumbing.)
The majority of the jobs available in my area don’t pay well; the average rate of pay is around $13/hour. At forty hours a week that’s about $2100/month before taxes, and taxes and insurance can be relied on to eat at least a quarter of your income. If you’re bringing home somewhere around $1600/month, good luck affording an apartment that costs upwards of $1000/month.
Let’s just say that the areas outside city limits aren’t absolutely lousy with dry cabin rentals because your average, unsubsidized single renter has other, better options.
How I Got Lucky For A While
It’s not really a huge surprise to me that I’m back here. I got a great deal on my last rental. It was a really nice place once. It originally had a large garage and 1300 square feet of living space. There were two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a jacuzzi tub, a wet bar, and a beautiful kitchen. Washer-dryer hookups both upstairs and down. And it was situated in the middle of two acres of birch forest with a view of the Alaska range.
When I rented it, the realtor had shown it to hundreds of clients and had pretty well given up. The cement floor in the garage was crisscrossed with cracks. The jacuzzi was no longer hooked up, and the wet bar had been torn out in a remodel that seems to have fizzled halfway through. There were cracks forming where the walls met the windows and ceiling, and the whole place had a distinct downhill slant toward the northeast corner of the house.
It was still a beautiful place, though, and it had running water and tons of room. At $1100/month, I considered it a massive steal. Apartments half that size, with black mold, rotting carpet, and outdoor parking where your vehicle will get broken into at least once a month, rent for more than that. Slanted floors and a little cosmetic damage? Please! I’ve seen so much worse.
I lived there for eight years as the place slowly sank into the ground and the owner made noises about selling it or fixing it up. Neither of these ever panned out. (Early on in my residence there, when the owner was stressing how much he wanted to sell the property, I suggested that I’d be willing to rent-to-own. This would have solved both of our problems, as no bank would write a loan on the place. I ran the math: including several rent increases over the years, by March of this year I would have paid off more than $110,000 of the $150,000 he wanted for the place. His loss, I guess.)
Slowly the cracks in the walls grew and the garage doors become more and more out of alignment. Friends who came over exclaimed about the tilt of the floor and the missing wet bar (I covered up the exposed pipes and missing flooring with a table.)
“Every time there was an earthquake, I’d wonder if your place was still standing,” one of my buddies told me, expressing relief that I’d moved.
Throughout the time that I lived there, I dreamed about buying my own place. I wanted the freedom of being able to fix and upgrade without a rental agreement hanging over my head. After a few years, I decided the sinking permafrost house wasn’t it. It needed at least $40,000 of leveling, and an untold amount of repair work on top of that. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake the owner had.
Although I had dreams of finding an affordable place and being able to swing a loan to buy it, I knew that was a big stretch considering how much income I’d need to be able to achieve that. For comparison, I would have needed twice the savings I had when I left either FedEx or the Other Job, and an additional $40k/year in income.
Due to the state of the housing market I knew that if I wound up moving out of the sinking house without finding a place to buy, I would probably be downgrading back into a dry cabin. And here I am.
General Darkness (Not Nearly As Cool As It Sounds)
I don’t exactly miss that place. But at the same time, I do. I had a lot of good times there.
That may or may not be a contributing factor to things being pretty dark since I moved. Maybe it’s partly because I’m still struggling with motivation and corralling my thoughts into a semblance of a narrative, so writing has been slow. (Readers of this blog have probably noticed that my writing hasn’t gotten back to pre-Other Job levels.)
Maybe it’s the constant interruptions, and the general inconvenience of dry cabin living. Maybe it’s the reminder that this is probably just another slow spiral down to taking another shit job so I can keep making rent. Maybe it’s the general inescapableness of poverty; how it’s like a tar pit that you can partially drag yourself out of if you’re willing to work 18 hour days in inhumane conditions, but which you’ll never truly be free of.
Long story short, life isn’t exactly bright and full of hope right now. I don’t like talking about my problems and I know people don’t like hearing about grim stuff, so when things are dark I tend to just stop talking. Hence why you haven’t heard so much from me the last few months.
To Be Continued
The original plan was to close this post with something uplifting, like photos from the 13 mile hike I went on last week. Upon further consideration, I’ve decided to split that into its own post as this one is pretty long as it is. Hopefully I’ll have that post finished by the beginning of next week. I’ll attempt to be around more and publish content more frequently going forward.
2 thoughts on “Post Move Update: Dry Cabins, Futility, and General Darkness”
MaryJane Owens says:
Good and accurate coverage of the housing situation here – dry cabins is what there is, for a good part of Fairbanks’ resident workers – the ‘essential’ people who make life work for everybody else, and risk their lives doing it, in a pandemic as well as everyday, 365/yr. Unless of course you want to work a 2nd job, or pile in with 3 other couples in a 2bedroom apartment.