June 21, 2021

Scrolling Past My American Dream

Nichole's dream house

I’m finally ready to buy a home. Well, I know I am emotionally, but financially, that’s something else altogether. Like many of us who are stuck inside apartments hearing and smelling our neighbors, I spend a lot of time online looking at real estate listings, dreaming of what may never be. Whenever the siren call of a buyer’s market hits the news, I move my laptop’s cursor over my bank’s hyperlink to see if I may pre-qualify for a homebuyer loan, but I float the arrow to the upper right corner of the screen, and sign out instead.  Nothing about my financial situation is ready to purchase and nothing about homeownership is made for a single, childfree woman. I don’t know if I’ll ever have my American dream. 

When I was in my mid-20s and head-over-heels in love with New Orleans, home of my college alma mater, I made noises about buying a home there. At the time, I was working in education and figured I could apply for one of those first-time buyer programs that helps teachers buy a home. This was my first experience with how discouraging the process could be. Each agent I spoke to, just to get a feel for things, tried to move me away from first-time buyer programs because of the administrative red tape involved and they limited the kinds of neighborhoods I could explore. Every time I gave an honest answer about my salary and what I could afford as a down payment, the agent would pause delicately then ask if my parents would be able to contribute. I’d chuckle and say no, then they’d inquire about a boyfriend or husband, and then I’d laugh fully. 

This situation was so funny to me because everywhere I turned, people told me I could not buy a home by myself. The real estate industry said my money as a single woman from a working class family was not enough, and to make matters worse, family and friends warned me away from buying a home solo because when and if I did find a husband, he wouldn’t want to move in to my place. Men wouldn’t be interested in me. Being a homeowner as a single woman was too intimidating. What could I possibly need a man for if I’d already done everything by myself? Never mind the fact that I could sell my fictitious home and use that money toward the purchase of a family home or I could keep it and turn it into rental property to grow a type of generational wealth I could pass down to any potential children so they could buy a home in the future… 

More and more, I was learning that the American dream of homeownership was not made for me, that pulling yourself up by your bootstraps can only work if you were already walking streets of gold. So what exactly am I working toward if I can’t get my house with the wraparound porch and bedroom fireplace unless I find a partner first or come from a wealthy family? Even if I suddenly became rich on my own, I’d still have to show proof that someone else in my life could help pay the mortgage “just in case.” It’s all very frustrating. 

And here I am, now in my 40s, still single and childfree, and still feeling like that particular American dream is out of reach for me. In a post-COVID-19 world, I read weekly news articles about well-off white couples, with family help and stable jobs, having their offers rejected because the market is out of control, and I think there’s no way I’ll be able to buy a home. I’m a single Black woman from a southern working class family, who freelances in a creative field, which means my income fluctuates wildly. (If you’re not clear about why I mention race, look up the term “redlining”). I feel very discouraged, especially since, once again, agents and loved ones try to steer me away from this dream. They tell me that I don’t need much house since I’m so completely alone and encourage me to look at 1-bedroom condos, which are absolutely the last thing I want. 

Because of my marital and parental status, I have to start considering that I might become a caretaker to certain members of my family in the near future. I need space for that. To me, a condo is another form of shared walls I don’t want. I know that pushing me to look at a condo is a gentle way of trying to get me to be realistic about what I can afford, but it all adds up to being another way I’m told no because I’m not a family. 

My career is finally taking off in such a way that I’d like to create some roots for myself. I’ve been told all of my life that one of the rewards for success is homeownership, and I’d love to sign on the mortgage line, but at every turn I’m blocked. Whether explicit or implicit, I’m told my family is too poor; I’m too alone; I want too much for myself. What am I supposed to do as I’m being told my hard work is still not enough? I honestly don’t know. Maybe a rich man will swoop in to save me, but until then, I guess I’ll keep scrolling Zillow and watching all the homes I’ve favorited get marked as SOLD.

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