Posted by: Angela | December 19, 2006

What you need, girl, is a good dose of perspective!

Nothing like a good dose of the reality to kick your psyche back to a more balanced place.

Lately I have been mourning the fact that in process of moving across the country, we sacrificed the “dream of home ownership.” Here in the Flathead Valley of Montana, we can not afford a house on one income (at least while being somewhat financially responsible). I had a pretty great house in Jacksonville, Florida. It was big enough with great windows and wood floors. It was older and in a neighborhood that was mixed racially but also stable. I felt socially and environmentally responsible with our decision. But it wasn’t perfect, the bathroom was small, there wasn’t really anywhere for guests and the kitchen layout was far from ideal. But it sheltered our little family very well and good times were had there. I hope that that spirit stayed with the house and now blesses those who live there.

So I have been feeling sad, and a little angry at the ridiculous housing prices that exist here simply because it is beautiful and not because of any intrinsic value that the houses have themselves. There are hundreds if not thousands of houses and condos here that are unoccupied at any given time because of the second home market. There is not true shortage of actual housing, just a shortage of houses that we can afford or most people working for the valley’s average salary. All these thoughts swirl in my head. Then I hear this story….

My in laws live in Santa Barbara, California which is consistently one of the most expensive places to live in the US. They have lived there since the late 60s and bought their house in the early 70s for some very small amount of money, although it was a stretch for them. They struggled to keep up with the mortgage payments through job losses and changing family circumstances. They did and now the house is payed off and worth some ridiculous amount of money for a plain CA tract house.

The only people who can afford houses in Santa Barbara are very wealthy people. Many of professionals move to other cities like Ventura, Santa Maria or even suburbs of LA and drive into Santa Barbara (which creates a whole different set of problems). But those who work in the service industries can’t afford housing in those places either. So those families come up with more creative solutions. One of those solutions is now on the other side of fence from my in-laws.

The house next to my in laws was sold a few years ago. It had been owned by this couple who was older than them for most (if not all) of the years they have lived there. The wife died and the husband finally decided to sell the house and move to a senior independent living apartment where he could get care if he needed it. The house was bought and turned into a rental which wasn’t necessarily a big surprise.

At first only a few people seemed to live in the house but over time the number seemed to increase. But it has been difficult to get a handle on it. But recently my in laws found out how the house was been rented.

They were returning the dogs that live next door that had escaped into their yard. To thank them, the dog owners invited them into the house. This house next door is exactly the same of my in laws house only the floor plan is the mirror image of their house. Same number of bedrooms, bathrooms and square footage. The dog owners showed them around. Each bedroom was rented by a different family and possibly the living room has been divided into two. Not single people, not roommates like in college, families with children…

I know that people all over world would be happy with one room in Santa Barbara, and so are my in laws neighbors. They were proud of their little place in the world. It is very likely that this house is better than where they lived before (most are immigrants). It has running water, electricity, heat, a yard, and it is right on a main public transportation route. It is blocks to the grocery stores and schools. But it is not the “American dream.”

The real kick in my pants came when I found out what these families were paying for their one little room, the same rent that we pay for our apartment here in Montana. But I have a room to sleep in, my own kitchen, my own bathroom, my child has her own room. We live in spacious quarters comparatively.

It is shameful that this happens every day in our cities. As my husband pointed out, it is the modern day tenement building. There is no real reason houses are more valuable in Santa Barbara than in the middle of Nebraska. They aren’t better constructed, safer, or anything else that adds intrinsic value. Those houses are valued based on location. Which really doesn’t mean anything for human life or health or safety.

We live in a world that so much is determined by location. In a time of globalization of everything, this is becoming more and more apparent. There are many theories why some societies developed like they did and others didn’t. Why diseases exists in some places and not others. But as Christians, we can’t ignore this. If Jesus Christ was born today in the same place he was over two thousand years ago, he would be a Palestine. He would be living in one of the most conflicted places in the world. How did we as Godly people let this happen? How do we as Godly people decide that a house has more value for a family because you can see a mountain or the ocean? How long do we stand aside and let the gulf of having and not having increase?

Here in the season of celebration of a Christian holiday of Jesus’ birth, we accumulate more stuff. And to what end…I don’t know. I don’t want to deny my child good things, but when do I say, sorry honey, enough is enough. When do I say that to myself?

Well, today I say, this apartment is enough and when I feel it is too small, I will go to my bedroom and imagine it is my home. Then I will go outside into the acres of Northwest Montana and celebrate God’s creation and the incredible privilege I have been granted by God. Not because I deserve it in anyway, but by His Grace. Then I need to walk out and seek justice and mercy on the behalf of others. How…I am not sure, but I have to for my sake, my daughter’s sake and for the world’s sake.

I don’t want my life’s value to be based on my location.

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Responses

  1. I really appreciate your article. I feel the same as you… I am in disbelief at the cost of housing out there. Here on the East coast, in Manhattan, some of the rents there are in the millions… yes, millions. If only I could get my hands on just one of all those millions. I think of the developers out there who scoop up land, then turn around and build housing that only the rich can afford. I wonder where the justice is in that.

    With that said, we, ourselves are blessed to have a rental that is one complete floor of a private house, and it’s the first floor. Utilities are included, except for the phone. My husband says that we have a sweetheart deal here and he doesn’t want to even think about buying a home… as here, in Elizabeth, NJ, the prices are unrealistic for what is on the market. I am thinking, “OK, but sooner or later, this sweetheart deal will come to an end”. We must be prepared for that. The reality of it is that we live from paycheck to paycheck and nothing really gets saved. So, as they say, “One day at a time.”


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