Two Houses: A Thanksgiving Reflection

By Jean Simonian

I like houses.  I like everything about planning, building, styling and living in houses.  Pre-COVID, when life seemed normal, I liked going to Open Houses – just to look.  I used to spend hours as a child building entire neighborhoods out of Legos. 

I grew up in a house.  My parents, like so many of their generation marrying in the 1950s, lived in a city apartment for a few years.  But by the time my older brother was a toddler, and my mother was pregnant with me, it seemed the time had come, and my parents bought their first and only home.  Station wagon in the driveway and all.

It was a time of suburb-building across the country, so there were several other young families on the block.  Also a few older homes — Victorians — that sat at the ends of long gravel drives into deep woods. 

When I returned to my parents’ home after my father’s death, to ready the house for sale, not much had changed.  The same houses were still standing— though a number had been expanded, adding a story or a room.  Rising property values freed up money for expansion, and families seemed to need more space than was commonplace when I was a child.

The market for housing was “tight” and demand, even for these decidedly un-modern houses, was brisk, and the house sold in a couple of weeks.  Honestly, I was just glad to have the sales task behind me.  The buyers were a youngish couple, a teacher and a utility company employee.  No kids, yet. 

So when I felt the time was right for me to buy a home, having rented a few apartments and lived communally in houses for many years, I looked for a single family home. I looked within my budget, and most of what I found were older homes.  I’ve since learned such houses have a name: Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing. Who knew? I just thought they were old.

The house I chose, in a core neighborhood, sat on a busier street than I liked, and it needed cosmetic up-dates. But it was solid, and it gifted me with the hardwood floors, plaster walls, and woodwork that replicated in newer construction would have been unaffordable for me. It’s a Cape Cod, and being from New England, it speaks to the sea captain ancestor I wish I had. And there was that 100-year-old oak out front.

Buying requires a leap of faith along with the cold calculations of finance. There is an unspoken covenant when buying an older home; like joining a dialogue, the conversation preceded you, and should continue beyond you. That comfort buffers the challenges that will arise and provides for the next generation to prosper.

There’s also a covenant between a city and its citizens: That the city will not cause undue harm to its citizens’ opportunities for the independence, financial stability, and security that home ownership can best provide. 

Let’s be thankful for the core housing stock we have – protect it, learn its acquired-over-time lessons of diversity, density, and environmental stewardship. Let’s replicate this Bloomington model, not tear it down. 

Let’s be thankful.

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