Searching for ‘home’ in America

Pandemic taught people to value their home. If they had one

Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, flanked by other lawmakers, speaks at a Sept. 21 news conference to introduce legislation to reinstate the federal eviction moratorium. Critics of such efforts might feel differently if they didn’t have a place to land at the end of the day, Curtis writes.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, flanked by other lawmakers, speaks at a Sept. 21 news conference to introduce legislation to reinstate the federal eviction moratorium. Critics of such efforts might feel differently if they didn’t have a place to land at the end of the day, Curtis writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 30, 2021 at 6:00am

There are those who might harshly judge the place where I grew up — a West Baltimore row house, complete with painted brick facade and white marble steps. But to me, and my parents, four siblings and the boarder on the third floor, it was “home,” despite the fact that as the youngest I had to share a bedroom until everyone moved out.

And home, as we’ve especially learned over the past year and half, is important. It’s a place we’ve learned to value as a refuge during the pandemic. And to be without that refuge, no matter how modest, would be devastating.

That’s something to consider as the country, slowly, tries to recover — and thrive.

A home is a “foundation,” as Marcia Fudge, former congresswoman and current secretary of Housing and Urban Development, put it this week. She had just toured a mixed-income housing complex in Charlotte, N.C., with the city’s mayor, Vi Lyles, and called it “a model” for the country. The Residences at Renaissance, once the site of public housing, also includes senior housing, an elementary school and a child care center.

Lyles is one of the local leaders involved with HUD’s “House America” effort to address homelessness with American Rescue Plan funds. And while the purpose of Fudge’s visit — and an earlier stop in Rock Hill, S.C., to meet with Catawba Nation tribal leaders — was certainly political, a chance to tout the housing policy initiatives in the Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda, there was truth in the secretary’s simple description.

The statistics Fudge cited during her Charlotte stop were pretty disturbing: 580,000 sleeping on the streets in America each night and 17 million spending half or more of their income on rent. When the economy turned upside down, the foundation for many Americans was not as solid as they had always believed. And, of course, there were many living precariously, paycheck to paycheck, before COVID-19, who were pushed over the edge. A federal eviction moratorium offered some relief, and it has since ended.

Though the American Rescue Plan helped alleviate the crisis, when I asked Fudge about policy relief in the budget reconciliation package, now at the center of political wrangling between Republicans and Democrats — and Democrats and Democrats — in Washington, she talked about the consequences of the “failure to look forward.”

She pointed out ways the pandemic has illuminated the interconnectedness of issues from broadband access to education equity to child care to health care, and how Americans want to know if the government “can and will make a difference in their lives.” She called it the “care” agenda and talked about how assistance for a down payment on a home could be life-changing.

“People want the same thing, no matter where they come from, no matter how much money they make,” Fudge said, from roads that don’t tear up their tires to a desire for their children to be safe. And a universal want and need is a “decent place to live,” she said, adding that she hopes legislators realize that the job of Congress is “to take care of the people they serve.”

When Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., camped out on the steps of the Capitol to protest the end of the eviction moratorium, some called it a stunt — probably those who have never been evicted, never been forced to live in their cars, something Bush herself experienced. It was a reminder of how few of our representatives represent the everyday lives and worries of so many Americans.

It’s not as though those who decry too much government don’t benefit from it, whether through tax cuts or business loans or a host of other goodies they surely accept, no questions asked. I doubt that many of those leaders who see politics as a game or a struggle over power for power’s sake would be so self-satisfied if they did not have a place to land at the end of the day.

They can care, though, and debate the latest budget package in terms of what it would do and whom it would help, in addition to how much it would cost.

Though I was one  of the lucky ones, with my COVID-19 inconveniences minor, I realize how much of that is because of the nurturing and the comfort of my childhood “home.” When I drive past it today, it looks smaller and a little more worn than I remember, but I know it gave me that foundation for a pretty good life.

It’s something everyone deserves.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.