Growing up, I lived on a road that looked like Mulberry Street. Massive oak trees met over the middle of the street, and the neatly-trimmed lawns made the neighborhood look like a post card image of suburban America. Our house was a hulking Victorian, set on the corner and surrounded by a hedge. When I first walked into it as a kindergartner, I whispered to my mom, “Is this a mansion?”
Yet I always felt a bit like my family didn’t belong in that neighborhood. While our home looked like a picture of the American dream, there was one thing missing: a deed. My parents were lifelong renters and never owned the home that I grew up in.
As an all-knowing teenager, this frustrated me. I couldn’t understand why my parents couldn’t do what seemed easy for so many other adults. I hid the fact that my family rented from everyone and let assumptions that my parents owned the house go unchallenged. I would even secretly wish that our elderly landlady would die and will the home to my family, making it truly ours.
When I became a young adult I was obsessed with the idea of home ownership. I couldn’t stand the fact that although my mother, siblings, and I had lived in my childhood house for twenty years, we had no entitlement to it. We were the ones who knew which floorboards squeaked, how each crack got into the wall, and when each lilac bush was planted. We knew just how tall a Christmas tree could fit beneath the ceilings, and where all the best hiding places were.
The house owned our hearts, but we had no ownership over it. I vowed not to make that mistake.
But it turns out, home ownership is not easy to obtain. You’ve got to have good credit, and a solid job history (something that can be tough to demonstrate for self-employed people like my parents and me). You have to be able to not only pay your rent, but also tuck away extra money for a down payment, closing costs, and moving. It’s no wonder that this year, the home ownership rate in America fell to its lowest level since 1965, with just 62.9 percent of Americans owning their homes.
When I take my toddler daughter to my home town, I always detour to drive her down the street I grew up on. I stop outside the hedges and point to the big brown house that another family now calls home. “See that?” I tell her. “That’s where mommy grew up. That home was ours.”
As my own home ownership dreams were delayed, I was able to look back on my parents’ decision to rent with a lot more understanding. My parents sometimes struggled to keep the electricity on, but they always made sure that the rent was paid, and that my siblings and me had a wonderful home, no matter whose name was on the deed.
While they could have found cheaper rent and maybe even the ability to buy in a different neighborhood, they instead opted to give the family the stability of a home that we knew and loved, in a place that was perfect for raising kids.
Last year, my husband and I bought our first home. I was extremely proud, but it wasn’t the big, emotional victory that I had anticipated.
The house we bought won’t be somewhere we stay long term, and while I value the opportunity that we’ve had to purchase property, living in the home doesn’t feel very different to renting at all.
However, when I take my toddler daughter to my home town, I always detour to drive her down the street I grew up on. I stop outside the hedges and point to the big brown house that another family now calls home.
“See that?” I tell her. “That’s where mommy grew up. That home was ours.”