Tameca’s Story | Denver, CO

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Note: This interview was conducted in June 2016.

Arielle Milkman for Make Room |
Tameca Coleman, 40, feels stuck. Coleman works as a massage therapist at a massage clinic on Colfax and York. She is also a freelance writer and a graduate student in creative writing at Regis University, and her pre-tax income fluctuates between $1,200 and $1,800 before tax. With her rent at $740 per month plus school expenses which come out to about $20,000 per year, Coleman said she’s technically making it. But stuck all the same.

“I have family on the East Coast, and my best friend’s in Florida. But I can’t readily go see them,” Coleman said. “The money I put in the bank today — I was trying to save for that — but I miscalculated and forgot some stuff was going to come out … stuff like that keeps happening.”

 

Coleman has thought about moving further out from the center of the city to make ends meet, but transportation at Denver’s outer limits and in the suburbs would be a major struggle.Coleman said that she would need to earn $2,400 to $3,000 per month to be able to afford to live comfortably in Denver right now — about double the salary she currently makes.

“I don’t drive, so moving out to a place where I could actually afford to live is going to make transportation even harder,” Coleman said.

She’s thought of other options as well — throwing everything in storage and living with a bunch of people, like she did in her 20s, or moving to Nebraska or Florida — anywhere where the cost of living is cheaper.

At the end of the day, Coleman said, the only viable solution get unstuck (and stay in Denver) is to make more money. “Like quite a bit more money,” she said.

When Make Room visited Coleman at her home in Jefferson Park in June 2016, sounds of bulldozers and drilling filled the air in a West Denver neighborhood which is gentrifying quickly. Coleman, who has lived in this neighborhood for four years but has called Denver home for 15, originally hails from Boise, Idaho. She said it’s hard to remember what was here before the change. Just a few blocks from her place, there’s a hair salon, a cross fit gym, and a realtor, in spaces which used to hold houses or lots. Coleman does remember more kids playing on sidewalks when she moved in four years ago, she said, and more people of color, particularly a large Latino community, as well.

“I’ve been run away from in this neighborhood by one of the new [white] neighbors,” Coleman said. “It was really weird, and I had like bags in both hands — they walked really fast the other way.”

Coleman said that her neighbors used to say hello, but the blocks around her house now seem like a more fearful place. “If I say hi to people now, people just walk away or they try to get me to do this to see that I don’t have anything in my pocket,” Coleman said, making a waving motion.

At 400 square feet, Coleman’s studio apartment contains her bed, a desk, chairs and computer, as well as a bathroom and small kitchen. Her favorite part of the space, however, and the reason she said she would move in immediately after seeing the place four years ago (other than the rent, which at that point was $540), is the long, sparse wall facing her bed — which she’s filled with all of her books. She likes to joke that her place is a veritable garrett — the types of small, cold-water rooms scholarly men used to rent in the 1930s in the city.

She doesn’t often have anyone over, but she feels comfortable here, and the space is definitely home. Coleman said she lucked out finding such affordable rent in her neighborhood — and her landlord’s frequent comments about the tight real estate market make sure she remembers just how lucky she is to be here.

“She [my landlord] always reminds me the people who are moving in [to this building] now are paying $975,” Coleman said.

Coleman’s rent is month-to-month, and she is conscious that the price go up at any time.

“I take care of myself,” Coleman said. “There’s not anyone helping me out unless I ask or something.”

She’s been looking at jobs on the East Coast, and apartments in downtown Boisie, reluctantly and haphazardly, but looking all the same.

“If it gets really bad — I don’t even want to say that, because I have a life here,” Coleman said. “It’s hard to leave that — but I’m also aware that I might have to.”

Correction: When the interview was conducted, Coleman was paying $740 a month in rent. She has moved and now pays $725 a month in rent. A previous version of this article stated that Tameca Coleman had family on the “west side,” but she does not and her best friend used to live in Florida, but now resides in Tennessee.