Two big things have happened in the past couple of weeks in my family’s life:

1. I was in a car accident and my car was totaled, and
2. We closed on our first home and are moving in the next week.

First of all, you should know I am fine.  AJ was in the car with me and neither of us were hurt.  A wheel (yes, an entire WHEEL) came off of a pickup truck towing an RV trailer across the highway and hit my car head-on.  Whole front end of my 2008 Scion was crushed in and the driver’s side airbag went off.  We truly thank God that no one was hurt, as if that wheel had just been a few inches higher, I am not sure I would be typing this.

It took a few frustrating weeks of crying, arguing, reasoning working with the insurance companies involved to get things settled.  I have been involved in accidents before and have never had so  many bumps in the road (literally, it would appear!) as I did this time, but finally the car was considered a total loss.

In purchasing a new car, we did a lot of research.  Fuel mileage is important to us, and we had plans of buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle.  However, in talking with the salespeople (and yes, we know their job is to try to sell us the more expensive vehicle, but we know them, and they were really practical with us) we bought a 2011 Ford Escape.  An SUV for this previously anti-SUV driver.  But, as you may know already, I am 5’10” and my husband is 6’4.”  Our son is not yet three and already 41 inches tall.  We are going to be a big family, and should that day ever come that we decide to add another (or a dog!) we would be quite cramped in a smaller vehicle.

I actually agonized about this the other night–I was feeling my “liberal guilt” about buying an SUV.  However, when I woke up the next morning I had a great solution–in our new home (which I will get to in a minute) we will be about 1 mile from the church.  We are a block away from the park.  Next to Walmart, those are the two places I drive to the most.  Our plan is that on days when the weather is good, I will walk with AJ to church (we have a great jogging stroller for that purpose) and I will always be able to walk to the park.  I will save on emissions and be greener and be healthier altogether.  To top it off, we figured out that the fuel mileage on the Escape is the same as it was on my Scion.  So my guilt is lifted.

Now, onto the house: we purchased a cottage-style home here in Durant.  We love it.  It needs some work but it has a great layout and a lot of character.  My husband is already at work installing energy-efficient light bulbs and ceiling fans, and we will install a programmable thermostat.  We have a great covered patio that we plan on spending lots of time out on and a gas stove for cooking.

For me, as you may have read in previous posts from the past, the desire for our own home has also stirred in me a greater desire for housing for the un-housed.  I’m not just talking about homeless folks that are on the streets or in shelters, but families and generations of people who have been stuck in rental situations where they end up paying over their lifetime what it would have cost to pay for a mortgage and then some, but could never qualify for a mortgage or afford the closing costs.  I remember reading in Sojourners a few years ago the story of an elderly woman in the DC area who, by her eighties, had paid in her rent what she would have paid for in a mortgage three times over, but never had the money for the down payment.

This is an injustice that has largely gone unrecognized in the United States.  We need to improve housing overall–the shelter system is only a temporary aid, it is not a permanent fix for the homeless.  There are very few shelters for homeless families–families end up separated as fathers are sent to one shelter and mothers and children are sent to others.  Often, children are sent into foster care while mothers and/or fathers remain in shelters.

Families who qualify for low-income rent often remain in low-income rentals for years, even generations, because they either do not have the income to pay for rent in other areas or they are turned down by landlords because of their previous status as low-income renters, even if they now can afford full rent.  Low-income rentals are notorious for not being kept up by landlords and managers because few will complain and often due to the low-income rent, there are not sufficient funds for repairs and upgrades.

For many families in low-income rentals as well as other rental situations, they still do not have the credit score and/or funds to qualify for a mortgage, or if they do, they do not have the fees for the closing costs and down payment.  Luckily there are organizations out there trying to change this for families, but they need more support and aide.

One of the many reasons we were led to move to Oklahoma was the opportunity to own our own home.  We would never have been able to do this, even on two clergy salaries, in Massachusetts.  We once talked to a reverend-turned-realtor friend of ours who bluntly said, “What you can afford, you don’t want.”  That was because at our double-clergy income, we qualified for the equivalent of a studio apartment condominium, in mainly run-down buildings.  Here, we are able to buy a nice home, with a wonderful fenced-in backyard, in town, and by the park.  We still have some upgrades to do–if we had bought a brand-new home here, our mortgage payments would have been hard to make every month, so we fell in love with a home built in the 50’s.  It has lots of charm.  It was once owned by the middle-school principal in town.  The house has lots of stories to tell us.

So, what I’ve learned from all of this: it’s time to let go of the liberal guilt and enjoy my life, but also to keep up the cause of justice for those who long to be in a home of their own, and to do my part personally for the environment and my health.  Because even if I could own a hybrid, it still makes sense to walk and not drive when I can.  It still makes sense to do what I can personally, no matter what kind of car I drive.  And I hope that by contributing to great organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and others, we can help folks get into homes of their own–but there are also many other organizations out there looking to help people with the down payment portion of financing their own home, and please do what you can to contribute to those organizations if you feel moved to do so.

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