I am an economic exile from Astoria. I was evicted on New Year’s Day 2015 from a old house in which I lived as a rental tenant for nearly 16 years. The house was sold to provide my landlord hospice care for Alzheimer’s. Ironically he died the day I was evicted.
The new owner from Utah stipulated the eviction. The old house is probably gentrified by now, shielded from demolition by Astoria’s stringent preservation edicts.
Homeless war veterans are a national cliché, so I am fortunate my sister has allowed my unplanned imposition upon her household.
I lived in Astoria for 30 years. I earlier worked on local tuna and crab boats a few seasons. I was aboard one boat when it sank in the notorious Columbia River Bar, which might be considered an eviction of sorts. So might a house I lived in on Bond Street that burned beyond repair in 1989. A careless smoker fell asleep one night in an upstairs apartment, the first of his two cremations.
I am one of millions of Americans who have lost their places of residence since the advent of the Great Recession, and are unable to find affordable housing. Hyper-escalating property rates and rents have provoked the homeless epidemic nearly everywhere in the U.S. The causes are mottled; blatant greed and unscrupulous home foreclosures generated by the odious financial collapse foremost among them.
The impetuous gentrification that has swept upon the Oregon coast like a tsunami has been a boon to the real estate industry, especially in popular tourist areas such as Astoria has become quite recently.
Local realty agents expediting sales and evictions claim they are just doing their jobs. That was also what we said in Vietnam when we dispossessed Vietnamese families from their homes, and set fire to their villages. At least realtors don’t shoot the people they cause to be turned out of their homes, and obviously don’t burn down their houses.
But long-term consequences for local families who are unable to find affordable places to live after eviction (or any other form of forced dislocation) might well be as abysmal.
Official Astoria finally seems to be taking notice of the housing disparity, holding meetings and forming committees at least — and developers claim to be interested in building low-cost housing if certain land-use regulations are relaxed. Of course that might also provide a back-door to logging off the city forest Astoria residents have fought hard to preserve. But their persistent struggle to save the trees might be undercut by losing citizens’ rights to property predators.
I did not care for remarks quoted in a Portland newspaper that people from all over the world are moving into Astoria and starting small boutique businesses “that bring a new level of excitement and sophistication to a working class town.”
That seems to exalt inequality: those who have more are “better” because they have more. And validates coldblooded displacement of the lesser affluent, who obviously do not possess the sophistry (a root of ‘sophistication’) of their betters.
Astoria is swiftly becoming a place where personal worth is reckoned by the contents of a wallet rather than hearts and minds. The influx of newer affluence might create a “need” for wall-to-wall (gated) condos on the riverfront adjoining a massive cruise-ship pier and marina. And downtown a tourist Elysium that would be an affected parody of Astoria as the oldest city in the American West.
I just might have to wait until after the earthquake before I am able to afford to live in Astoria again.
Michael Paul McCusker