I watched the scenes of the devastating floods in the Midwest and the South with a lump in my throat. So awful to witness Mother Nature swallowing up whole communities. Stately houses,âÂÂ¯modest homes, and tiny ramshackle living quarters swept away in the split second of flash floods. And dazed survivors sifting through rubble confirming their bleak reality, “We’ve lost everything.”
Thankfully, fewer than expected lost their lives, but loss of life was not the only tragedy here. I’ve been thinking about what it means to lose hearth and home in an instant. Is it easier to cope because an unpredictable event took it or because of changing conditions out of your control?
Rising waters didn’t force Vantrice Taylor out of her Dorchester home, but rising taxes did. Taxes that kept creeping up over the 41 years she lived in her three-decker home. Her neighborhood slowly became highly sought after and her house, a hot property. Of course it was much more than that to Taylor. “We had the same phone number for 40 years,” she told the Dorchester Reporter, “I’ve lived in the same house all my life.” Taylor managed to keep her family’s head above water, but eventually she was submerged by the double whammy of high heating costs, as well as high taxes. Then, like so many of the the flood ravaged victims, Vantrice Taylor packed up her memories and prepared to let go of her old life. “When I see that Citgo sign lit up, I’m home,” she told the Dorchester paper. Not any more. Her family will soon move to Troy, New York where the cost of living is much more affordable. Her house sold in 8 days.
Vantrice’s story crystallized for me, once again, just how serious the housing crisis is in Greater Boston. Sure, there’s a seemingly unending supply of luxury housing, but options for working- and middle-class Bostonians are limited, and the costs may still be out of reach. Three decker fixer uppers in Vantrice’s old neighborhood routinely sell for 600 and 700 thousand, while properties in Mattapan are selling for as much as 500 thousand--and they also may need fixing up. Yes, developers are still required to include affordable units in any apartment or condo building, and Mayor Marty Walsh’s housing plan is in the works. But, the developer units are few in number, and the 53 thousand affordable units available under the Mayor’s plan won’t be ready until 2030.
Right now I have high hopes for the Mayor’s new Office of Housing Stability which works to bring together available resources for residents trying to keep their homes. It might have a major impact in stemming the tide of gentrification. But I think for any of these efforts really to be effective, there must be a reconciling of what’s affordable according to market data and what’s affordable according to real people’s everyday lives.
Whether from high debt or high water, losing a home is much more than a simple loss of property. “No matter what circumstances you leave it,” observed Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky, “Home does not cease to be home.”