Sarah is one of those people that you immediately want to be friends with. She has a warm, thoughtful energy and one of the kindest smiles around. Sarah’s also a passionate advocate for justice and is devoted to creating a wonderful home. I also happen to have a huge instagram crush on her apartment. Seriously, it’s straight out of Apartment Therapy. And she has the sweetest little cat who has a taste for house plants and Apple chargers. We had a two-hour long conversation on renting, financial responsibility, and community. It was one of my favorite afternoons. There was so much we talked about, that I’m splitting up Sarah’s interview. In this post, we’ll talk strictly Sarah’s apartment (and maybe a smattering of other topics.)
As a full-time staff member at a local college, Sarah offers direct guidance for students and also teaches a class during the academic year. For Sarah, home is a retreat. She is an introvert who interacts with students and faculty and staff all day, so she made her apartment a place to reenergize and recharge.
The one bedroom apartment is $625/mo with utilities and is 28% of her monthly budget during the academic year, but in the summer, because she is not able to teach her class, her monthly percentage jumps to 32%. There is off-street parking, no laundry within the building, and a very good landlord. Sarah and I share a passion for home decorating and architecture, especially the old Duluth homes. Her’s was built in 1910 and was chopped into eight different apartments. There is a built-in bookcase within her apartment, but the old building was neglected for years which has cased some quirks. Modern heating doesn’t fit well into this apartment complex, which means Sarah’s apartment will be freezing (literally below the legal limit to have an apartment temperature) while her neighbors are roasting. Over the summer, it was discovered that there was an issue with the plumbing and the water was shut off for over a week while the city had to come and inspect the problem. But overall, the old, quirky building is exactly what Sarah was looking for. The apartment has character and a little view of the lake. While this exact apartment wasn’t her first choice, it was definitely a solid second option.
Because, Sarah’s first choice wouldn’t even give her the courtesy of returning her calls. In fact, most places in Duluth would not return her communications. After spending some time in grad school, Sarah was offered her current job with the promise that she would quickly move to Duluth. Even after doing the due diligence of checking listings, making calls, sending emails, re-calling, and re-emailing, all Sarah got was silence. No courtesy “sorry the room has been let” or offers for a showing. She did everything she is supposed to do and the rental market ignored her. A young professional with a good and stable job, willing to pay was ignored.
Sarah brought up the idea of respectability when renting. She made too much money to qualify for housing assistance (which has its own difficulties) but not enough to pay for the “luxury” apartments springing up in our area. Landlords almost seem to prefer students with little to no renting knowledge and the willingness (necessity) to drown themselves in loans to young professionals with a steady income. Is it because students don’t know their renting rights and are less likely to file a maintenance report on the drafty windows or stick up for themselves in case of conflict? Luckily, Sarah’s job was able to provide on-campus living while she looked for a more permanent (and less student-y) housing.
What she has created is a beautiful home. Sarah believes this is where she should be at her age and education level. Her one bedroom may be small, but as she pointed out, “If I were living in a tiny home on a trailer, people would be congratulating me on my small footprint, instead of critiquing my slanted floors.”
The space has helped with a more minimalist mindset, almost out of necessity. The phrase one-in-one-out resonated with me and my little hallway home. Living alone means, you may love that antique bookshelf or large sofa, but girl, you have to THINK about how you are going to get that up the stairs. She’ll stay put for a while because a) moving SUCKS and b) this is the best landlord experience she’s ever had. Even though it has an “office-style” tile ceiling and cream-colored carpet, Sarah acknowledges those are personal preferences and the apartment has great bones. She says her rent is a fairly good deal, but that may just be in comparison to prices in the Twin Cities. Perhaps for the amount of space, rent should be a bit less, but not much less.
Sarah has an obvious passion for creating beautiful living spaces. So, when I asked what should be done about the current situation, her answer was perfect. “Make a grant system or something that allows folks with the ideas and the skills to fix up abandoned properties and make quality rentals for actual young professionals who want the Duluth quirk and charm. Not luxury apartments, but homes.” Ugh, brilliant! We have so many spaces that need a facelift and a nice coat of paint, let’s do that! Let’s reuse the resources and utilize the good bones of our Duluth homes. YES YES YES! Like I said, Sarah is amazing. And so is her home.
Thank you Sarah for letting me interview you and see beautiful pictures of your home! Our talk has given me so much to think about. If you want to be part of YPR, please let me know! I’d love to chat.