I spend a lot of time in this space writing about housing and financial services advocacy. Sometimes I write about utility rates or energy efficiency policy. Other times I write about wages and income. No matter what I am writing about though, I try to lift up the stories of North Carolinians who are the most vulnerable. I try to center the narrative around those people in our communities who have the least access to safe, decent, affordable housing and a living wage.
However, today, I want to tell you my affordable housing story.
In spring 2005, I closed on my dream home. Nestled in a historic neighborhood in Durham, it had everything I wanted – it was walking distance to downtown, it was in the “right” school zone, it had plenty of room for my growing family. I could imagine all the sleepovers and birthdays and block parties in our future. I sent my first child to kindergarten from that house. I brought my youngest child home from the hospital to that house. I could see envision them studying by the picture window in the kitchen or doing crafts in the garage workshop. It was my American dream come true.
You don’t think it can happen to you but I’m here to tell you differently.
By the winter of 2008, that dream was gone. A disastrous job move coupled with a soft job market left me “self-employed”. Unable to afford my dream home anymore, I handed my home back over to the bank in order to preserve my credit rating and avoid foreclosure.
My credit tanked anyway. Here I was, with all my degrees and skills, trying to find a landlord who would rent to someone who was self-employed with small children. I found someone who was willing to rent to me but I had to pay whatever he wanted. And what he wanted was too much. I paid it anyway. The house was in a good neighborhood but I couldn’t really afford it. I went for years without health insurance for myself, ultimately not knowing I had glaucoma until it damaged my eyesight. I made every rent payment for two years until I came home to a foreclosure notice on the door. My landlord was not paying his mortgage. We were forced to move again.
Fast forward to today. After ten years as a renter, I am once again in a position to buy a home. Except now, instead of living in one of the most affordable cities in the country, I live in one with the hottest housing market. I still live in Durham but Durham has left me. The house I could afford in 2005 is now well beyond my reach. The number of loan products available to me is reduced. After years of housing advocacy and housing counseling leadership, I know what I’m looking for but unable to find it. I find myself negotiating with sellers who want “due diligence” – which in layman’s terms means “money I ain’t getting back if this falls through”. My now teenage kids flip through listings I don’t have the heart to tell them we can’t afford.
I am telling you this story not for your sympathy but to show you what happens to us ALL when housing affordability is compromised. This is not just my story. This is the story of hundreds of households in Durham alone. I was able to rebuild my financial position. Such a thing is not possible when you don’t make a living wage. Or are disabled. Or teach public school. Or fight fires. Or… fill in the blank. We have reached a place that is not sustainable. As more families are evicted, fewer of them have safe, decent, places to go. As housing prices escalate, fewer families are able to build the stability and wealth that will allow their children to go to college or start their own businesses. You don’t think it can happen to you but I’m here to tell you differently.