Social Surveillance

The management company operating the co-op complex where I reside installed surveillance cameras inside what had been the residents’ private purviews. The courtyards. There, we have access to pools and barbecues.

While this address has always had cameras eyeballing our parking lot, whatever occurred on the patios remained unseen. Unseen, yes, though not unremarked upon.

Circumstances are changing. Eight years ago when I first arrived, this address hosted a decent balance of homeowners to renters. With the influx of Californians into Nevada seeking either to relocate or simply invest, a good many of my former neighbors who owned their units saw the amounts being offered, stuck eyes back in their sockets, and grabbed the windfalls.

They sold too soon. If they’d waited, the figures being quoted now makes those prior big bags of money look like pittances.

As far as the renters, no choices existed. New ownership wanted immediate returns on their investments which justified the purchases. The big kind. The old leases were fine when the owners weren’t rapacious and impatient. But hungry individual investors and bottom-line management companies seeking to acquire properties and swiftly maximize returns were the least likely to cut slack for long-time tenants.

New owners demanded higher rents that compelled nearly every renter to relocate. Surveying this scene now familiar faces are scarce. Only fellow owners like myself who reside here still call this address home. We don’t even amount to a handful.

The only “survivor” in my proximity is a woman who spends months at a time working in an Alaskan fish processing plant. There, lodging and board company provided, she banks bucks that let her prop up her feet here during down time.

Yes, her job is arduous. However, her home paid for, her responsibilities meager, she amply rewards herself with Las Vegas pleasures.

New and more money into this address delivered improvements and upgrades. In turn, these further fueled the property’s appreciation. It was just coincidence that property values nationwide rocketed at the same instant. In Southern Nevada, though, a Saturn V booster couldn’t have propelled them higher nor faster.

It’s mere luck, the unforeseeable kind, that I reside in a wildly inflated spot. I must be honest. The offers frequently tendered to purchase my square footage is excessive into unreal. Of course, I can state that having bought when prices here just weren’t low, but at a nadir.

Downtown Las Vegas is undergoing a renaissance. Younger generations are rediscovering the urban landscape their parents and grandparents abandoned for the suburbs.

Block by block parcels which had been ignored, allowed to decay, bypassed, are today finding renewed favor with young, ambitious “urban homesteaders.” Or if preferred, being gentrified.

I understand older residents, retirees on fixed incomes, renters already on thin margins from just barely sustaining salaries, are being pushed elsewhere. Even more so now that rent increases are leapfrogging beyond the means of the aforementioned. That is unfortunate. Their resentment must be immeasurable.

Nonetheless perhaps in their pasts they had opportunities to acquire homes they could’ve made theirs outright. Informed by members of my own family, I know it requires dedication and a sight so focused it might be mistaken for myopia. It also demands strict adherence to deferral and denial.

The older generation had that laser-like skill in abundance to spare. At least in their case not having grown up with much nor the sort of speedy gratification we increasingly take for granted instilled patience as well as prioritization. After all weren’t they accustomed to purchasing on layaway plans?

Before credit became so universal and debt still frightened honest people, I recall my parents, aunts and uncles, not only taking on second jobs but almost any tasks which earned them another dollar. This toil just wasn’t to accrue down payments but continued until a goal all shared was reached: the last house payment.

Each accepted the necessity of signing 30-year mortgages. None remained sanguine about the burden. So much so which of their lives’ largest obligations wasn’t retired after only 20 years or thereabouts?

Trust me when I write there’s nothing more palpably relieving than the ceremony behind burning a mortgage. Figurative is nice. Watching flames consume paper and smoke and ashes curl upwards is better. The one for our home influenced me in a manner I didn’t grasp until moving to Las Vegas. Before I had any job prospects, I bought my own home straight out of pocket. If not the first, then I was among the very few among my line who could attain “mine” minus decades of concentrated struggle.

It was an unreal feat that may have astounded those who I grew up esteeming.

None of the renters cycling through my address today will enjoy that same ability. The absoluteness of that claim should not be doubted. Past remains prolog to the future. Just observing the residents who’ve transited here indicates how they’ll fare. Or fail.

During the furlough phase of our Covid agonies, renting residents cashing supplemental enhanced unemployment benefits fell on two sides. They were either ants or grasshoppers. There were few of the first, whereas the second resembled a locust cloud.

The ants in this case diligently maintained good relations with their landlords. Yes, they paid their rent. One suspects that with the added largesse they also got ahead of whatever bills possible. Unsurprisingly when they moved those decisions were made by their own design.

Not the case with the grasshoppers. A great many of them regarded the moratoriums on rent payments as permission to steal. Despite being unemployed, the supplement still provided plenty of money to fulfill rental obligations. Well-intentioned as it was, suspending rent collections never considered the human capacity to exploit.

A lot of tenants saw the decree as opportunities to personally and materially benefit from an extreme situation. Like the fable’s grasshopper, none of them acted in the best interests towards their futures. Rather than do what was right, and quite aware the law supported them in larceny, they chose thumbing noses at landlords by withholding rent.

What instead did that money buy? If the dumpsters and parking lot of this address are any guides, the empty cartons that once contained 70-inch televisions cramming the former and the sudden presence of new automobiles crowding the latter attest that consumer electronic stores as well as car dealerships made out like bandits through Covid money.

While the nice, shiny, new things quelled impulses, did any of the buyers foresee that day when the spigot shut off? The moratoriums would eventually end. The landlord would then be within every right to demand past payments. Failure to settle these means evictions. Unpleasant in any instance, these performed in Nevada can be legally cruel. And though enough cash had been piled to make decent new car down payments, what about the seemingly endless line of payments ahead?

It shouldn’t take a swami to foresee the auto repo industry rapidly expanding in Nevada.

If the money margin was thin before Covid, the added substantial burdens of finding affordable post-moratorium housing as well as a new car monthly nut will erase discretionary income and further squeeze household budgets. About the first, what landlord will take any chance on tenants who’ve already clearly proven themselves as deadbeats? Won’t those required deposits be so sizable they’ll be unattainable?

The surveillance cameras are prudent fixtures. These are equipped with night vision and omnidirectional microphones.

Tenants who burned bridges throughout Las Vegas are scrambling into apartments fronted by signatories with less perilous financial/personal backgrounds. In this respect let’s hope the Good Samaritans don’t get burned.
Ad hoc living arrangements means strangers may be among strangers in desperate quarters. Living amid extended family is bad enough. Sharing tight accommodations with people thrown together by self-created bad circumstances can’t result in much good.

Already we’ve seen increased litter, heard more arguments, and contended with transients’ unneighborly aloofness.

Furthermore, there’s the homeless. Installing security gates was new management’s first task. Infest Las Vegas as the wretches did years ago, those numbers were low compared to today. And since then the shitbirds have become more brazen.

Security gates aside, an indecent percentage of the new nomads temporarily calling these structures home have no connection with us long-termers. On purpose. To them, ours is no more than a place to flop, eat, and occasionally bathe until their lives stabilize sufficiently to afford private housing again. Who expects that blessed day to arrive anytime soon? Otherwise, they’re indifferent to any true residents’ concerns.

Safety for the whole is immaterial to the interlopers. Only they find no fault with defeating the security gates’ purposes by continually blocking the crash bars. It’s either that or banging on the grating until someone opens the gate. Purchasing a key in order to enter isn’t even an option.

Theirs is the inconspicuousness of the guilty.