Sunday, September 28, 2008

Middle Class America For Rent

I was born into a long line of renters. My grandmother rented, my mother rented and I rented. No one in my family acquired real property, no stocks, no bonds, no retirement plans and nothing of real value to pass down to the next generation.
In fact, no real wealth had been accumulated throughout any generation of my family, for as long as my family has stood on American soil, more than two hundred years by a genealogist's account.
This fact became even more poignant in 1997, when my grandmother passed away at the age of 78. Nana died and left the unexpected expense of a funeral (her insurance didn't cover the burial). She also left us a few sentimental trinkets, her cherished memory and a host of dust bunnies under her bed. That was it. The life legacy of a renter. I decided then and there, that I would do better.

I attended a wealth building workshop that taught saving techniques for a First Time Home Buyer. As my knowledge grew, so did my self-worth. Three years later I purchased my home and officially became a member of America's middle-class.

The equity in my home grew and I had credit that allowed me to make home improvements, general repairs, purchase a newer car and ultimately to afford a college education for my kids. But most importantly, in the event of my death, my children would have something more than just a funeral debt.

In 2007 everything went terribly awry in the housing market. Like so many other middle class Americans, I felt it's affects through the trickle down method. It came in the form of increased mortgages, increased property taxes, increased water & sewer bills, increased food bills and the reality that our homes, as lovely as they were, weren't worth as much, as the money that we owed on them.

In other words, the equity that had been built up and borrowed had begun to ebb and I failed the Income to Debt ratio, and suddenly, credit was being denied. Then came a series of small emergencies-- failed car brakes and broken eyeglasses, I tapped into my savings, until my savings were tapped out. It was then that I saw the first "For Sale" sign on our sidewalk, then a line of them, like fence pickets.

I'm lucky. I've found a part time job to supplement my income. But, I don't have the time or energy to mow the lawn, so our once plush grass, is overgrown and looks more like chaffs of wheat than blades of grass and each day is a struggle. Yesterday, I put out a "For Rent" sign.

It reminded me of my family's legacy, a legacy of renters.

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