Melissa's Letter

Melissa Madenski is a former Tillamook County Resident

March 2006

Neskowin, Oregon

           One often thinks of gentrification when it comes to neighborhoods, but I’ve been immersed in the gentrification of the sea, the Pacific Ocean to be exact, and a little town that lives on its edge.  For the past three decades, I lived in a small coastal town that all-but-empties in the winter months and swells to overflowing on holidays.  Now, it is common for three to

five-thousand square foot homes to sit idle for the stormiest, coldest months of the year and to be lit only a few months of the year’s remainder.

           Recently, I received a letter in the mail from my friend, Lane, who is co-chairing a committee to explore how to maintain housing affordability in coastal towns north to south in our county, one of the poorest in the State of Oregon.  I need to write her to let her know that I can’t afford to live in my own home anymore and have moved to the city where mass transit solves the problem of gas and its boulder-like weight.  I am the person, the demographic of which they speak.

           Many of the jobs within a ten mile radius of my home are service jobs, and as we learned in Nickle and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, this kind of pay doesn’t go very far.  I’m qualified for a lot of work, most of it out of my county.  For the past decade I’ve worked with ESL students and with literacy groups in Newport, Oregon, 50 miles from my home – a two hour round trip.  My commute doubled its cost two years ago when gas prices began to jump up and down more unpredictably than a two-year-old.  Because I didn’t want to move my family or myself, we stayed; I commuted.  I often held 3 jobs and did everything at the coast from implement teaching and literacy grants to cleaning houses, to starting a garden business.  I drove to Portland for work, to Tillamook, to Salem and, sometimes to Washington.  We survived.  We survived because I am one of the lucky ones; I own a home. 

          My late husband and I built our house 25 years ago for $6,000, $4,000 of which was a personal loan from the local bank.  Of course, 20 years has done a lot for the small space with plastic windows where we started out with our young son.  My husband’s friends were cabinetmakers and carpenters, and when he died, the house got finished – one of the only “finished” homes in our small community.  Repairs and unexpected medical costs forced me to take a mortgage on our home, another good fortune as the debt is small and manageable.

          We live inland where most of the full-time families reside so the taxes are still low, the rent reasonable.  Not for long, I’m thinking.  A small corner cottage in the small village a few miles away sold last month for over $400,000 – a bargain.  The house down the road is on the market for almost a million dollars.

          Moving to the city has brought both pleasure and pain.  I miss my home; remind myself constantly that it is good fortune to have a house to miss.  I miss my neighbors.  But I don’t miss the commute or watching home after home after home after huge home get built in places where the notion of “public” beaches is being tested seriously.  Though the arguments against this kind of development are old and tired, it seems important to keep giving voice to the fact that as these large, often unoccupied homes come in and sell for exorbitant prices, the taxes raise as do the rents, putting a lot of people in difficult waters when trying to locate an affordable rental or home to purchase.

           This then changes the entire population, reflected in the late-model expensive cars parked outside local markets.  The population swells with people who can afford to live there or who patch together a living as I did.

           I am rich.  I have everything I need.  My family is healthy, we have work, my car runs. I own a house.  The problem is that I simply can no longer afford to live there.