By Cheryl Carstens, Minnesota NOW Secretary
When I first heard the term housing insecure it made me think of homelessness in a completely different way. You see I am a married, suburban mother with a good job and a two-income household. I have never had a fear of ever being homeless. My support system is strong and worst-case scenario, I would always have a place to stay.
However, for many years having a house for my family has been a struggle. The stress of housing my family has, at times, escalated into depression, anxiety and made me physically ill.
Our housing insecurities started before my husband became ill when we bought a starter house. The house was a stretch for our budget, but we wanted our children to grow up in a house. When my husband became ill and was out of work for over a year, we were behind on house payments and faced foreclosure. We sold our house before this happened and this began a cycle of moving that lasted 13 years and 6 rented homes.
Our first rental home, the owner stopped paying the mortgage and we were evicted within 6 months. Having to explain to my children we were moving again when they were just starting to make friends broke my heart. The stress of having to find a home, pay another damage deposit, and fall deeper into debt launched me into a terrible depression. I doubted what kind of mother I was. We were still dealing with my husband’s health challenges.
I would love to say we lived there happily after but we didn’t. With medical bills piling up we needed a less expensive home, so we rented a new home. The unimaginable happened. One day a sheriff knocked on the door after only one month and informed me the house was in foreclosure. The owner was behind on payments. After my initial shock and fits of crying, I was angry. The couple who rented us this home knew our history. They knew my kids were moving schools again and they knew we would be kicked out long before our lease expired. This couple was parents themselves and they knew my youngest was having a hard time adjusting to the new bus stop. Despite all they knew, they made me tell my children we had to pack up all of our belongings and move again. My son was angry with us for trusting our landlords. He was embarrassed. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I had been taken advantage of again.
That year we moved three times until we could find something long-term that was suitable for our whole family.
I tell of my family’s experience because the stress, heartbreak, and embarrassment of housing insecurity is often a family secret. Affordable housing isn’t only about low income. Safe, affordable housing should not be a luxury. After all, isn’t homeownership the American dream?