It's about our community and our spirituality!

Some Opportunities Are Unnecessarily Hard To Come By


My family and I now own a home.  Our parameters were pretty straight forward.  We wanted something old and full of old school bricks.  We were looking for something on the large side.  We wanted a house full of old hard woods, but in relatively good shape.  We wanted something cheap.  And most importantly of all, we wanted something in the black community.  Well, given all of those requirements, it was a sure bet we weren’t going to find all that for cheap on the more desirable side of town.  We actually thought an abandoned house would be sure to fill our bill.  And there are a ton of houses in the Saint Louis area that are abandoned that would have met our needs very well.

But just try to buy one.  So many of the houses we wanted, that were supposedly for sale, their availability evaporated into the ether as soon as we made an offer or a bid.  We tried to buy houses from the city.  Those deals fell through.  We tried to buy houses from banks.  The banks just sold the house to someone else and it’s no longer on the market.  We tried to buy houses from individuals.  But a lot of people didn’t realize that we’re in a severe economic depression and that credit markets are no longer just giving money away.  A house has to be worth a certain amount over the mortgage and the credit rating of the borrower has to be pretty damn good despite all the claims that the government is trying to jump start the housing market.  We rarely found anyone trying to sell a house with any incentive to actually sell the house.

Consequently, the vast majority of the houses we’ve looked at in the past year are still abandoned.  Only one house that we looked at in the past year has people living inside it.  Only one other house that we looked at has anyone visibly working on it.  Every other house has tall weeds growing where the lawn should be, sheets of boarding up where windows ought to be, empty rooms where a family should be living.  And the one owner of a house that was more than ready to make a deal with us was trying to unload a structure so dilapidated that the guy we hired to inspect the house couldn’t get out of the basement fast enough when he discovered the weakness in the support beams.

So many of the realtors we tried dealing with simply got tired of dealing with us and moved on.  Not much money to be made at the bottom of the real estate market.  And it wasn’t like we were undercutting people’s asking price.  For the most part we were willing to pay what people were asking for.  The house right next door that was on the market for all of about twenty seconds is still empty after all of these months.  The people in the neighborhood broke all the windows within days after all the residents who lived there were evicted.  And many of those windows remain shattered and broken exposing the insides to the elements.  The house is deteriorating right before our eyes and there’s nothing we can do about it.

It’s frustrating to see so many houses begging for people to make them a home again.  Their emptiness and neglect screams at me.  These houses are a reflection of the people in the black neighborhood.  These houses have so much extraordinary potential and it is being needlessly squandered, left untapped and unused.  The housing waste parallels the human waste and it is all so depressing to me.

Eventually, the big pocket developers will move into the area once the prices of all the homes get low enough.  The developer will hire a legion of workers to rehabilitate the homes and the businesses and the area will come alive again.  People will pay big money to come back into these houses.  And there’s nothing we can do to stop it.  If other people have the same experience we’ve had then it is a matter of fact that we can’t buy these homes even when we have the money to do so.  Affordable home ownership, like buying a house for pennies on the dollar, is just one of the many opportunities that remain just out of reach for the average black joe.

Sadly, my family and I will watch the neighborhood continue its slow crumble.  We’ll sit back and watch as more houses in the area are abandoned and will sit vacant for who knows how long.  I used to think people needed to just buy these homes and invest in their old neighborhood to bring it back.  But now I’ve learned that, like most things in the black community, it isn’t always as easy as it looks.  For some black people, buying a decent house is like trying to find a decent job.  It’s doable.  But be prepared to wait for what you want.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 - Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, Life, Thoughts


  1. Just plain nuts that all these houses are supposedly “off the market” yet remain abandoned, busted up, etc.

    I wonder, if the local development gurus aren’t just buying up bits and pieces so they have a stronger argument for grabbing up others later, and then throwing in a Shopping Center, or (Developer’s Name Here) Community Center for Neighborhood Investment [of which noone in the neighborhood will ever be able to meet the criterion]

    I heard a story here recently about a bunch of Habitat for Humanity people descending onto some community and rebuilding massive amount of homes, here in Iowa I think, due to tornado and/or flood damage, headed by Iowa wonderboy Kurt Warner and his wife.

    Wonder why this never happens in regular neighborhoods that have faced a time or cultural disaster, but goes to natural disaster neighborhoods only when spearheaded by some celebrity?

    Maybe you and some local neighbors ought to form some community coalition and force the city to push the nuisance laws on these absentee landowners, and force forfeiture of property to your coalition, rebuid it, and bring the good people back into the community.

    Comment by Mike Lovell | Wednesday, June 17, 2009 | Reply

  2. Brother Peacemaker

    I’m having the same problem in the community that I reside into. I keep telling the individuals to keep the community up from diving into cheap, prime real estate for a developer. But, nobody want to take heed to my warning.

    Comment by Yes | Wednesday, June 17, 2009 | Reply

  3. It does help to organize as a community, but it’s a ton of work to do that, and a fair amount of risk. Some years ago (1980s) I was involved in a community effort to buy an abandoned building from the city for $1 and convert it into apartments for members of the community. You need a community organizer, a strategy, and the trust and commitment of a fairly large group to endure a 3-4 year wait, who can continually put some signficant money up in the hands of the group, and who are willing sometimes to do off-putting things like descending en mass to the office of a bank or developer to request a meeting when the phone calls didn’t succeed. Oh, and sometimes you have to get some financial help from your extended families along the way because the city might require you to put up a huge amount in escrow because you have no track record with this sort of thing.

    But there’s another big thing, and that’s typically the main point of your blog: When I walked into the bank to discuss the construction loan, the banker took our proposal seriously. It’s not really possible for me to tease out the role that racial preference played in this or other encounters — I’m white — but it’s not hard to imagine that it did play a role. Hopefully, not a decisive role, but it’s there frequently enough, I know.

    And even so, the experience was exhausting and I don’t want to go through it ever again. Developers don’t particularly invest themselves in the housing they build. Typically, they use other people’s money, and are looking for more money. It’s not very often about providing homes for a community.

    Comment by Bettina Hansel | Thursday, June 18, 2009 | Reply

  4. Good Lord Bettina-

    You come an crush my hopeful idealistic side with the truth of reality- Thanks! People often wonder why things can’t get done, and the whole bureacratic process of adding more and more redtape is never targeted for elimination….blech!

    Comment by Mike Lovell | Friday, June 19, 2009 | Reply

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