by Kellen Squire
Ten years ago today, my wife and I were able to make good on a central tenet of the American dream, one we’d been taught would be a foregone conclusion for us when we got old enough – we turned from renters into homeowners.
Doing that involved a LOT of hard work, to be sure… but it also required an incredible amount of luck that nobody should have to rely on, without which we would have been completely shut out of the ability to buy our home. We would have joined the over fifty percent of millennials who don’t own a home– a rate 25% lower than Gen Xers, and a staggering 30+% percent lower than Boomers. Would have been part of the generation for whom this dream “isn’t for you. It’ll never be for you. You will never own a home. Sorry, that is the deal that you made when you decided to be born after 1988.”
We managed to buy while house prices were still “low”- that’s in quotation marks, because the Charlottesville/Albemarle, Virginia MSA hasn’t had “low” prices for a generation- following the great recession. We found a house near Charlottesville because we wanted to stay somewhere with exceptional public schools, that wasn’t too far for my wife and I to drive to the ER for work.
But even getting to that spot was a lot of luck on its own. The apartment we were moving from was one I found while I was in nursing school at UVA- which was itself nothing short of a miracle of a find. Rent was what would today be an unheard of $950/month for two bedrooms and two baths. The landlord agreed to not raise the rent as long as we stayed there, for however long that may be- and he not only kept that bargain, he fixed things anytime they broke. Immediately.
Having had rental companies take application and security deposits from me in the past for no reason whatsoever, having had to fashion my own showerhead, having had to sue a landlord on my own for NOT INSTALLING A FRONT DOOR on previous rental units… this was like a dream.
But I found it because I happened to be perusing a rental website at 3:03pm the day the listing went live at 3pm. Even in 2009, the landlord told me I was the first of three dozen inquiries in an hour on that listing. Just a combination of lottery luck that enabled me to barely be able to eke out going to nursing school full time and work full time without adding any of my rent to my student loan debt (It was preschool costs I had to include into my student loans instead, but that’s a story for another time).
I “starred” this email after sending it because of the unmitigated happiness I had. We were starting a new chapter of our life- one so many don’t have access to.
So with a second kid on the way, we did – but it was tough. We were barely – and I mean barely- able to eke out a $10k downpayment on the house, which, had it been even a fraction of a percentage higher… would have ended things immediately. Even that was only accomplished by leveraging bills onto credit cards, selling what we could, scrimping everything we could, picking up overtime shifts in the ER. I remember my wife and I looking at the dollar amount in our checking out, marveling openly at the novelty of having a bank account with a five-digit positive balance, if even for a fleeting moment. “Seven digits,” I joked, “if you could the zeros after the decimal point.”
It was still a struggle. We both had student loan payments. As mentioned previously, I not only had to pay back my student loans, but I’d also used them to help pay for preschool for my oldest, which- at $950/month- cost as much as our rent had at the time, and eventually cost me more than my UVA tuition. We had to pay back on our credit cards for the swapping we did to make the downpayment work. We had to pay our bills, put food on the table, and do what we needed to do to.
And the honest reason why we don’t have the specter of these things hanging over our head right now is because my wife and I worked an aggregate several thousand hours of overtime during the COVID pandemic, which enabled us to get to where we are today.
It shouldn’t take a combination of just truly incredible luck and risking your health working thousands of hours of overtime during a global pandemic to be able to comfortably afford a house.
I don’t want to denigrate the hard work that my wife and I did to get where we are, but if even one of those things had gone wrong- if I had checked that rental site at 3:10pm, if we had to have a $12k down payment, if we had had to wait longer and had to deal with the housing price increases- any one of those things would have kept us out of owning our home.
When we talk about having a legislature, having a Congress, having people in the corridors of power who reflect our communities and our society, this is what we mean.
We need people who are, and have been, renters. Who’ve had to deal with predatory rental companies and horrible landlords. Who have been squeezed nearly to death by rising rental prices. We need people who understand what it’s like to struggle and juggle to make things work.
We need people who are willing to stand up to the vulture capitalists and hedge fund managers who are buying up homes to use as commodities. Who will protect people from slumlords. Who’ve lived in mobile homes, in quadplexes, in public housing.
We need people who are connected to the problems faced by everyday people, who worry about being able to pay their bills and put food on the table for their kids, who want to fix stuff because they understand first-hand the cost that will be incurred if they don’t.
We need people who are committed to expanding grant programs to support first-time homebuyers, who will fight to pass laws allowing localities to impose affordability requirements on new construction, who will fight for smart zoning and density changes to enable communities that people can afford to work, live, and flourish in.
We need to enable people to run for office who are connected with what’s going on on the ground in their community; people who are there all of the time, not just when it’s convenient to parachute in or to blow money on carpet-bombing TV commercials.
That’s why I’m running for the Virginia House of Delegates. I’m running to prove that we need to make it easier for people from every walk of life and from every zip code to be able to stand up, make their voices heard, and run to represent their communities. I’m running to prove that unapologetic, bold progressive leadership means just as much here in rural Virginia as it does anywhere else in the country.
That’s why we have more individual donations than any primary campaign in Virginia history. Because that’s the kind of experience people are ravenous for. They want people who can speak to their experience because they lived it too.
Join us, and let’s bring progress to Virginia– together.