Reflections on Home Ownership

My ninth graders are currently reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and I am using ideas from a well-developed curriculum from northern California to guide instruction. Today I had my students begin class writing a response to the following question from this unit:

“Is living in a house your family owns different from living in a house or apartment your family rents? How? Are renters, owners and homeless people all considered equal citizens in America? Why or why not?”

I wrote with them for ten minutes, and re-learned a lesson about writing as thinking. I realize that a lot of the learning I have done about myself, my family, and my world has been through the process of writing. Although my students often think of writing as a painful task, it can be one of the most fruitful things we can do in the classroom. I am encouraged to do more writing as thinking tasks in the classroom: less focus on structured essays for the grade, more focus on the process.

I also spent a good deal of thought on home ownership. Growing up, I knew very few people who rented. In fact, I can only think of one for certain. My best friend, Candice. She was the child of a teen mom who raised her essentially alone. They spent time on welfare when she was a child and lived in government-subsidized housing. This made her something of a novelty at school: she knew what people were like in the “real” world; she knew what it meant to suffer and struggle. It also meant that my understanding of homeownership was that it was a right for all but the poorest of society.

Now that I have had the privilege of renting for over five years, my understanding of what it means has changed. I understand that it does not necessarily indicate poverty or lack of opportunity or education. However, there are still many negative results of being a renter.

For me, it has meant never feeling permanent, always living mentally in some other time: a past or future in which I do not move annually. My control of my environment is limited to what things I own and pictures I nail to the walls. Knowing I will soon be moving, I don’t build relationships with my neighbors, don’t join community organizations. I hold onto hope that we may find some way for Wess to finish his degree from a distance and spend my daydreams imagining our alternative homes: Canton, Cleveland, Chicago, always a beautiful old house with character and seasons. I don’t consistently vote, even though one of the primary reasons I am a teacher is to empower my students to take full advantage of citizenship; changing my address in my voter registration so frequently seems like too much of a chore.

For the poor, though, renting has more damaging implications. It means more likelihood of eviction or increases in rent, which cause individuals and families to move around always chasing after affordable housing (as Wess and I have been doing) and may uproot children from schools and people from their support systems. It also means that we don’t take pride in our homes, our neighborhoods, or our communities, and therefore we don’t take care of nurturing them as we should.

I’ll leave with a final point, as I live in this land of opportunity:

“Currently, just 56 percent of Californians own their own homes, compared to 65 percent national average, ranking California the state with the lowest rate of homeownership of any in the country.” —AT Network

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1 Comment »

  1. Robin M. said

    We regularly consider this question. We rent a flat in a big city. It’s plenty of living space, but we don’t own it. If we bought a place, it would probably be smaller than where we live now. Plus anywhere we could afford to buy would probably not have as good of public transit.

    Our sense of community is more linked to our participation in our preschool and our Quaker meeting than our neighbors. Should we move to where we could afford something and give up our 12 year old Meeting relationships?

    Should we try to buy something? Is property ownership something we should put so much money into? Are we more free to respond to God’s will if we don’t have a mortgage?

    All this just to say, it’s a big question that we distress ourselves over pretty often. Good luck to you as you wrestle with it too.

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