Although it’s commonly believed that newly-arrived immigrants or refugees will cluster together, this doesn’t always bear out. Take Harold and Maude, for instance. When they arrived, their caseworker put them in an enormous apartment complex where there were several other Iraqi families. Overall this was not just fine, but downright positive. They made some good friends. But one family in particular had a boy about the same age as their oldest. The two quickly, naturally, became friends, but Harold and Maude were not happy with the boy’s influence on their son, especially after he managed to get them both in trouble.  They decided to move as soon as their lease was up.  They found an apartment complex with few children and no other Iraqis, signed a new lease, and gave notice to the first apartment complex. We helped them move one rainy Saturday at the end of January, and I went back the following week to help them clean the old place.

“You know you won’t get your deposit back,” I told them. “No one does.” It’s actually quite common for families to move to a new apartment after their lease is up, usually either 6 months or a year. Their reasons differ; usually they are looking for cheaper rent, or they want to be closer to friends, or they have finally been given section 8 (subsidized housing). None of these families have ever gotten their deposits back; in fact, a few have accrued extra charges. One family got sent a bill for another $1000 after their child spilled tumeric on the carpet on moving day.

But I have never seen anyone clean like Maude. They moved the fridge, the washing machine, the stove, and scoured underneath them. They washed all the walls. They steam-cleaned the carpet. We picked up every single tiny piece of trash. The place was sparkling when we left that day, after a picnic lunch of fried chicken and jo-jos from Winco, proudly produced by Harold from the trunk of his car, bought several hours earlier. (No I didn’t get sick. People worry too much)

That particular apartment was a fine apartment, not like some I’ve seen refugees put into. (One friend recently lost heat for days, and her landlord never returned her calls. They finally fixed the heat themselves) But even though it was perfectly adequate, it’s obvious that the builders didn’t choose to use quality materials. The blind slats, the paint, the era of stove and washing machine made it clear. But that was okay, since they have to know that, right? You can’t put a family in an apartment for a year and not have some wear and tear. That’s why they charge $850/month for a two-bedroom apartment, to cover any damages.

But apparently the owners don’t want to have to spend even a penny of their gains. Because Maude didn’t get any of her deposit back. I went with her to the office, where a platinum blonde with dark eyebrows said defensively, “I walked through that one myself. There were stains on the counter so we had to spray, I remember.” I explained “stains” to Maude, but she was not impressed. “This is false, this is lies,” she said bitterly, reading the list of repairs, which conveniently happened to total the amount of the deposit.

I kind of agree with her. I’m sure they had to paint a couple of walls, maybe spray the counters like the woman said. But I am also sure that the large corporation which owns the complex could afford to do that with the money they made off the rent. Certainly they could afford it a lot better than a refugee family. The woman promised to look into it again and call back, but she didn’t.

It’s a small injustice in the larger scheme of things. Call it a moving-out fee instead of a deposit, and maybe that makes it easier. But it still makes me mad, because I saw the tears in the corner of Maude’s eyes that she tried to hide, and I know how badly that family needs the money. I see how hard her husband works at a job that only gives him 39 hours a week so they don’t have to pay benefits. I see how much they worry about their kids, how important things like education and good manners are to them. And I don’t see why even small injustices in the name of greed are acceptable, why we all shrug and say, “That’s just how it is in this imperfect world.”

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