A good job that provides security and purpose. A family you love and who loves you back. A home that offers peace and comfort at the end of a hard day.
It’s the American dream. But for far too many of us, that dream is more fantasy than reality. The fact is that when it comes to homeownership, profound inequalities still exist.
The (Not So) Thin Red Line
The idea of the United States as the “Land of Opportunity” is practically ingrained in our cultural identity. But there’s simply no hiding from the fact that America’s dark history has been built on parceling out that opportunity to only a privileged few.
The United States is built, literally and figuratively, from the forcible removal of Native Americans from their homes and lands. At the same time, economic hierarchies began to be built, and maintained, by excluding persons of color from one of the primary sources of wealth: home and land ownership in prosperous areas, a process traditionally referred to as redlining.
Unfortunately, though redlining is illegal today, its vestiges remain. Persons of color continue to struggle to secure affordable rental housing or home loans in more affluent, and traditionally “white,” communities.
The result is race-based residential segregation that does far more than perpetuate the vast gaps in income and wealth among black and white families. This segregation also leads to devastating inequities in education, employment, and even healthcare access.
Where the Heart Is
To be certain, residential segregation is real. The American Dream is far harder for some to attain than it is for others. And that is unfair. That is unjust.
But that does not mean it is destiny. There are still ways for you to build your American Dream, no matter what your circumstances may be or what kind of obstacles may lie in your path.
For instance, you might decide to look into homes that tend to be less expensive or more difficult to sell. Consider foreclosures and fixer-uppers. Look into more rural areas or smaller communities you might have overlooked.
You might even decide to buy a plot of land and build the home that you want. And, again, you might look for lots that tend to be less costly or more difficult to sell, such as those on sloped terrain. If you choose to purchase a sloped property, you may end up paying a bit less. But building on a sloped property also comes with added burdens, from leveling to drainage, to soil testing, which can be costly.
The benefits, though, are that you’re likely to get some premium views for your efforts. You’re also not likely to be competing with a lot of rival bidders, and that will help contain the costs.
It’s also a good idea to protect your investment. Purchasing a home protection plan can give you the coverage you need not only to keep up with essential home maintenance but to tackle those inevitable and often expensive repairs.
Is it Worth It?
The allure of the American Dream is certainly strong, but as we’ve seen, the dream hardly lives up to reality for a lot of people. And that means that before you invest too much of your time and money, it may be a good idea to pause, take a breath, and take stock.
Because, while, yes, homeownership is a significant producer of personal wealth, markets today have changed. A home isn’t the automatic source of equity, the sure producer of passive income, that it once was. So before diving headlong into buying a home, you should consider the benefits of renting, and compare those with the housing market in your particular area. It may be that renting is the smarter bet, at least for the time being.
You should also examine your personal situation, not only your finances but also your short and long term goals. Is your job stable? Are you happy and planning to remain where you are for the foreseeable future? Answering yes may be a good indicator that, yup, you’re ready to buy a house.
If and when you decide it’s time to take that step, and you are a person of color or belong to another marginalized group, unfortunately, your path may be longer. It may be harder. It’s not right, but it’s real. But it’s the system that is wrong, not your dream. And your dream is worth fighting for.
For many of us, buying a home truly is a sign you’ve arrived. A sign you’re finally, really, a grown-up. A sign you’ve achieved the American Dream. For persons of color, though, that dream has too long been denied. The land of opportunity has been more fiction than fact. But unequal opportunity does not have to mean no opportunity at all. When you find that the time is right, that the effort will be worth it, then let nothing deter you from it. You may choose to get creative, such as building rather than buying, and you will certainly want to protect your investment well. But with every deed signed, with every dream successfully pursued, we move one step closer to at least making that fabled American Dream accessible to all.
Guest Author Bio
Magnolia Potter is a muggle from the Pacific Northwest who writes from time to time and covers a variety of topics. When Magnolia’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book.
Blog / Website: Magnolia Potter