The Cost of Shelter – Where is Your Palace?

no palace for the King of kings

Have any of you been looking for housing lately? We expect to move into our own place at the beginning of the year, but where? And how much will it be? It looks as if everything is way more than we can afford!

Now, I’m not very fussy. If it keeps out the snow and rain, can be heated with a woodfire (safely) and has some form of sanitation and a water source, we’re pretty much okay with that. We would prefer, obviously, a garden, some sheds or barn for animals, a quiet, natural setting. But we have been happy in a nineteen foot travel trailer and a 300 square foot cabin. We don’t need much.

Housing is expensive because it is a valuable commodity. It should be a basic human right – shelter. We live in manufactured mansions while many in the rest of the world live in what barely counts as shelter – it doesn’t keep out the rain, or animals, or thieves. (Yes, thieves steal from the poor all the time – a few dollars, medications, a wedding ring, even food.)

But for the poor, housing and basic shelter are a constant struggle. Nothing will bring me to tears and all-out panic faster than the prospect of being homeless. I find looking for affordable housing to be exhausting, discouraging and frustrating.  We hear things like, “We will need a deposit,” although every place we lived together has been in better condition when we left than when we moved in; “no pets,” although my old sheepdog has neve done damage, barely makes a noise, and I always clean up after herin the yard, and heaven knows, it would break our hearts (hers and mine) to be separated now;  “you’ll have to take it month-to-month, I may want it back for my daughter in three months” or “you’ll have to sign a lease because people move out of here after just a couple of months and I’ll want the whole year’s rent,” which means there is something terribly, terribly wrong.

If I could buy a house it would be cheaper by the month, but even if we can scrape together a down payment, I don’t have a job and we won’t qualify for a mortgage. There are cheap properties in rural areas, perfect for homesteaders like us, but after a year and more of financial disaster due to Nicholas’s stroke, we have no credit.  We don’t have parents to co-sign. My father is the only surviving parent, he is in his eighties, and he is in another country.

One author we like, Ferenc Mate, in his book A Reasonable Life, pointed out that it used to be that when a couple got married, they went out to the edge of the village, everyone helped build a house, and the young people moved in. Land and property weren’t commodities – they were community property. Oh, in the days of feudalism, one had to ask the lord if it was okay to put up your hut or cottage, but likely he’d say yes, because a newly married couple meant soon-to-be-born babies who would grow up to be productive labourers.

Just about everything we see on real estate and housing, home decoration and family life, is geared toward selling us the American dream – the big house, the rooms full of furniture, kitchen heavy with granite countertops and stainless  steel appliances and expensive cookware. But people don’t seem to live in these houses; they merely exist, moving between bed, car and soul-grinding job. They long for escape. So then we see the advert with the father finding the family members scattered in different rooms, all of them connected to a different electronic device. He takes them on a vacation in a motorhome to make them reconnect around the campfire, under the stars.

What?

That house, in this market, must have cost a half-million dollars; everyone is in their own room. They are not talking to each other because they are comfortable in upholstered furniture, passively receiving communication through television and the internet. Is there some reason they can’t build a fire in that fieldstone fireplace in the barn-sized living room, turn off the devices and talk to each other in their own home? A half-million dollar home, filled with tens of thousands of dollars worth of furnishings, and they have to buy an $80,000 furnished, self-propelled dumpster to have a conversation?

All right, I’m serious about this. We are looking for, first of all, community. We want to live among other Christians, we want some self-supporting work, we want to grow our own food. I don’t know yet how much we can pay in rent, or if we could possibly buy something with a low down payment and low monthly payments. We are clean, tidy and skilled. We are quiet. We aren’t perfect. We have the occasional light drink but you would never know it. We are good neighbours. I am used to being called out of bed in the middle of the night because someone is in need of help.

Is it possible? Does the medieval sense of community still exist? Is it possible to recapture the sense of the early church in being Christians together?

We are poor financially, but we are rich in knowledge. Who needs that in their community? Who has room?

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20 thoughts on “The Cost of Shelter – Where is Your Palace?

  1. I so sympathise over this. Five of us share one good-sized house here; none of us separately could afford a house with a garden (without a colossal mortgage. Because we live in one house, the Council Tax and all utilities are split 4 ways (one of us is not in a position to contribute) which means we can live on £270 a month each. This in turn means we are not obliged to sell our time doing occupations we are not called to, for money. One of us has a modest wage, one of us has a tiny wage, one of us sometimes earns a bit of money, two of us are self-employed and earn just enough to get by.
    Sharing is the only defence of the poor.
    I wonder if you have explored the possibility of any of the intentional communities? I’m thinking of religious communities – you might get a house-for-work with a monastic community, or a place in an eco-village, or think of joining a bruderfhof community or something? Resurgence magazine has small ads in the back that sometimes include such openings, and I think Permaculture magazine does too (though that may just be a UK publication).
    May God bless your search. May you and Nicholas find your nest, like the sparrow in Psalm 84, under the shelter of the Lord.

    • Actually, the UK might be an option, as Nicholas has dual citizenship, although it is many, many years since he had a UK passport. I’m not sure if the UK wants him, with his medical problems. I realize that I am not the best co-housing candidate, as I am extraordinarily tidy and clean, and drive housemates crazy with my washing up and organizing. I am also very impatient with those who talk and don’t follow through, sometimes a huge conflict in co-housing. I don’t speculate on what should and could be done unless I think we are going to do it!

  2. We live in a semi-closed community that gives a great deal of charity to enable members to live within walking distance of each other — so mostly urban.

    Can Nicholas collect disability if you back over the border and work? Most types of SSI can be drawn abroad. Canada has social housing for disabled people who are older; the United Way would know about this. There are co-ops, though the ones in my area seem to cater to young single mothers for some reason.

    How about becoming a residential caretaker? Generally you’re given the apartment or lodging free in exchange for doing light maintenance duties for the residents.

    • I hve looked into your suggestion, but nothing has materialized yet. We talked about this before between ourselves and thought it was a good idea, a way to have housing, a small salary perhaps, and save toward independence. thank you for reminding me of it, and I’ll look into it again.

      Nicholas can take his pension to the States, but won’t receive medical care there. I think we need to stay in Canada or possibly in Maine near the border, if that would continue to enable him to access his Canadian health care benefits. (I’m not sure about this.) (And yes, we will be paying taxes on his pension!)

      I will be looking at the social housing situation here. It is usually unavailable, waiting lists are sometimes years long and my experience of it is that is often well below standards for other housing. Although I could see myself working and living in co-op housing for single young mothers. I am naturally a matuschka!

      • Are you eligible for ROOF? They’ve recently expanded it to include people who were not originally eligible.

        I know that disability benefits are taxable, but I cannot see how a person with disability as his only income, supporting a dependent spouse, is liable for taxes. His personal deduction is about $9500 in Ontario, and he should be eligible to deduct more because he is disabled, because he is supporting you, and probably a number of other reasons. They may well be _withholding_ taxes, but they should pay them back to you at the end of the year.

      • I don’t know yet how much the pension will be. Quite possibly, it will wash against the personal deductions. But they have the right to fully tax it, of course. I’m not opposd to paying taxes, although it seems a bit harsh at times. I do want to go back to work as I can; it isn’t that we are looking for a free ride! I would rather work than deal with government paperwork anyday. I don’t understand why clergy complain about paperwork. Other denominations may be different, but my Anglican diocese had us file one report a year. It meant collating our paper records, but it wouldn’t take me more than two or three days to complete. There were some tax forms to do to keep our non-profit status (and non-profit was a good way to put it) and we might have a grant request to fill out, but it’s nothing compared with the piles of forms the government pushes at us every month, it seems. It will get better once the pension is settled.

  3. I love to get a house too but as we only have one paycheck that is very hard. I have an OK sum already so the downpayment is secured for the type of house I would like to own but banks are not going to give me a loan with R being unemployed. If I was single I would perhaps get that loan but they see it as two people on one salary now and the banks believe it to be impossible to live two people on a teacher’s salary owning a house but I know we could as we do very well now. The cost of a rented apartment and the cost of a semi-cheap house is much the same minus costs for repairs and as I save quite a lot very month that would cover the repairs if needed. I don’t say that I would not rather that we both had jobs before buying a house but it irritates me that we are automatically disqualified. We are not in a rush but I do long for it a lot.

    As I do not have a driver’s license the cheapest houses are out of the picture because I need to live in a place along regular buslines or with access to trains or within bike distance from my job. The last is out of the question as those houses cost about three times the amount I feel comfortable spending. There are some houses that would suit us in places where I can take the bus or train however and that is our present plan. I am already used to going to work by bus or riding my bike as I live on the other side of town (about 35 mins by bike and 30 mins by bus) so going on a bus for an hour would be OK.

    • It sounds as if you have a plan! Saving money is always the first step, isn’t it? I am a good saver, too. I believe that is good stewardship, to have something set aside so that we aren’t instantly destitute if something goes wrong. By now, we have exhausted our savings, though – a long run of unemployment and other hardships will do that!

  4. Magdalena–

    Love this post. Again, you and I seem to be dealing with similar issues. Have you checked out http://www.ic.org. It’s a listing of intentional communities. You can search by criteria such as Christian or by location. I’ve also been looking on mhvillage.com. Hope this helps, dear sister.

    –Jenna

    • The IC site is very interesting. At least it gives people some idea of what they might be looking at in an intentional community! I don’t know if we are “intentional” community people. The Christian ones seem to be very conservative (which you might think is what we are looking for) but our experience with that is they often devolve and people start leaving over leadership issues.

  5. Hi,
    I don’t think you want to come to the US, but I was just thinking you might check in with the conservative Quakers in Ohio. I have no idea if there are any Anglican churches there. I don’t think I have ever seen one here! Probably just missed it? Anyhow, the plainest Quakers in Barnesville or Michigan ( one is quite North in Michigan) might know of a situation, like one of the houses on a farm that was for farm hands at one time, but have to be rented out now. Or maybe even a house on an Amish place that is empty.

    On this subject – I have been thinking lately about how things were in the 40’s and before, where families rented rooms was more common and no stigma attached as well. There should be no stigma for renters, but in the last few decades society has become snooty as people who could not afford homes or big, fine homes were given loans for them anyhow. This created an Attitude that, despite the recession, seems to persist. I wish often that more varieties of renting situations would make a comeback and people would be more encouraged to rent. I am not against buying, of course, but so, so many people don’t have the money to buy and upkeep a home. Upkeep is the really expensive part. My husband can fix anything and remodeled this house alone ( it is ALWAYS more work and money than anyone thinks it will be and if we had it to do over again- NO.) and if he couldn’t have done all this we would not have bought it. Now that we have been through all that, went overboard on adding on etc… in pre christian years, we are hoping we can sell it down the road and get something small.

    Joanie

    • I’m not ruling out the US, if Nicholas can get health care. I agree with you on buying a home. Now it is close to impossible to get the loan unless you don’t really need it! Remodelling can be such a money pit – I know now what I would want, and how simple things can be to keep us happy – plank floors, plain white painted walls, old kitchen fixtures. I think my one “luxury” would be something like a Pioneer Maid woodstove.

      BTW, the Anglican church in the US is called the Episcopal Church.

  6. OH!! I didn’t know that the Anglican church was called that here. Still learning something new most every day!!

    I had to chuckle at your idea of luxery. The Pioneer Maid woodstove. Odd thing, that something that requires some work and skill to use costs so much. But I suppose you might find one used. Am I wrong in thinking they would be heavy? Surely they are and unless you are going to plant somewhere for a good while it might be a real pain to lug it around. Everyone jokes that this town ( oh, other towns in Indiana say the same thing, and it may be just as true there as it is here) are mainly those who left the hills of Kentucky. I picked up on that accent to some degree when I moved here from the more “sophisticated” Indianapolis ( haha, but honestly, I was more in my own family culture there and did not speak with a twang and a mixture of Kintucky talk) and everyone noticed it but me. I was flabbergasted and denied it. One of my English relatives, when hearing me on the phone for the first time said, “You did not tell me you had a Southern accent!! WHY?” He got upset when I gave my youngest an Irish name, too, but still, he must have had a point I figured. I still don’t hear it in myself, but I am told it is there by those who don’t have it. So, anyhow this town is full of “Kintuckians” and many of them, like my father in law, grew up literally in the hills with nothing much and they used a woodstove to cook with. I was rather surprised when I visited a neighbor who lost her husband 2 yrs ago and saw her big ole woodstove. She cooks on it everyday. The majority of people here heat with wood, too, and won’t consider otherwise. You might find one for a good price, especially if you come down to Ohio or Indiana somewhere. But what a change that would be for you. I think our state is beautiful, in that we have so many woodlands still, some lakes, rivers, and lots of fields. Even some hilly places. But then, I love the parts of Canada I have seen ( Up around Quebec and Ontario – I liked it better than Calgary) and the East coast is awesome in some places. Oh how to pick – if one could. We took a train ride across the top of the US and I think Wisconsin is the most beautiful and interesting state of all I have seen and had all the elements of the West as well as the ones East. I was just stunned by its different sorts of beauty.
    Sorry, to go on so!!
    Joanie

    • When I am in the Staes people think I’m a Canadian, and when I am in Canada, people think I am an American. I have a border accent. I am such a Northerner that even in this part of Ontario I think I am too far south. I love birch trees, pines, mountains, snow, a rocky coastline.

      I so want to be settled for the rest of our lives. Maybe it’s middle age, but there’s a lot I want to do that requires staying put. I want a place for our grnadchildren to visit, that will be a center of calm and permanence in their lives. I was too modern for too long – always looking for the better house, the better job, the better location. Now I know that the best place is where you are. Unfortunately, this is not our house and the agreement was always for a temporary situation. I would so like the next move to be the last move for a long, long time!

  7. magdalena,

    Here in australia, it has been estimated by groups such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics that up to 1 million, yes, ONE MILLION spare rooms exist within households across the nation. Couple this with the fact that 100,000 Australians are homeless, 20,000 families among their number, and we have a not so small ethical dilemma. With housing and rent prices through the roof here, and a vacancy rate of only 2 percent or so in the capital cities and regional areas where work is plentiful, something is wrong with the way we have organized ourselves post WWII.. Suburbia isolates, fractures community and inflates prices. It is also ecologically and socially unsustainable. Isolation happens when families have to separate due to rent or mortgage costs near older family/job availability, lack of transport in outer suburbs is a further isolating factor, especially when people are unable to drive (due to disability, for instance) and the dual income model (a horrid turn of affairs in my thinking), causes the family dynamic to be fractured even further and the generations to grow estranged from one another.

    We need a radical reorientation of community!!

    i believe subsidiarity/distributism and organic community to be a potentially revolutionary antidote to the treadmill millions and even billions are increasingly caught upon. Whether Catholic or Protestant, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu – it doesn’t matter, this model provides an answer in and to the chaos.

    Wish we weren’t half way around the world!!

    Blessings,

    Sarah.

    • I think of the number of old rectories with room for large families, and all the aging priests who live alone or as a married couple…the huge rectories built by the Roman church to house a dozen priests, and one old guy living there now…Presbyterian manses the size of dorms. I could go on! We are a world of individuals, unable to make space for anyone else. Immigrants here often live three families to the apartment, sharing a kitchen, spending a lot of time outdoors. They don’t seem to mind that they share space. Housing is expensive; they are used to more intimate family life. I can’t imagine sharing wih my own sisters! One of the reasons that we can’t make housespace is that we have so much stuff! This ten room house has furniture in every room and stored in the shed. And as far as North Americans go, this isn’t a lot – most of it was inherited by Kay from her mother. We are quite tidy and junk-free compared to our Western contemporaries.

  8. I wish I knew what to get rid of. Not everything is mine. This house is old, a large two story cottage with 12 rooms, 1 and a half baths, and lots of huge windows ( built in the late 1800’s and soft touch victorian) and no wall space or halls. Instead of end and coffee tables we use stuff like dining tables reduced down to a 3′ round and old sewing machines to hold stuff. Lots of bookcases stuffed as much as they can be ( 3 in one room, actually and one is an 8 foot wide built in up to the ceiling.) I got rid of lots of pictures and antique stuff years ago, but still my house is bulging with stuff. Some of this is not mine and both sons are sharing the family room and they are like night and day. One keeps his neat as a pin and the other one is ….awful, just awful. And he and his buddies throw their stuff all over the neat one’s stuff and I have a curtain up there so I don’t have to see it ( that doesn’t work btw, I can FEEL the mess). When the oldest one moves out and not until, I don’t think I will be able to get my bearings and figure out what we can get rid of. Part of the problem is that we have had to set up places for computers and tv’s, since we will not watch regular tv at all, but the older one pays for his own sattelite service and even has 2 tv’s set up for his friends to play games with him. We don’t do video games, and don’t agree with what the older one does. But he seems to be slowly outgrowing it and he doesn’t drink and run around and he has trouble finding anyone to hang out with who doesn’t party. So, we have set up a little computer monitor screen for Patrick to watch a movie occasionally. With him being so often unable to walk about or to tired from seizures it has helped at times to have the tv. He does a lot of artwork, reading, and so forth, but he gets so bored with no friends. So, if Erik moves out we will just have one little screen and things may look more hopeful to me. I feel like my house is attacking me!!

    • I know how you feel! But you can still get through the rooms without tripping on things, so don’t rush. The day will come when you will look at things and know what needs to go!

  9. I so sympathize with your plight! At one time, and I still adhere to the belief, we were communities, not single selfish entities. We worked together for the common good. We have three neighbors on our road, and all subscribe to that idea. If one needs we all pitch in.
    It is sad to see that this basic premise of ‘humanity’ has gone by the wayside. If you are interested, there are people where I live (Southeastern Missouri) that might be able to help you. It would not be ‘grand’, but no one will complain about a dog, a garden or help…

    • We did find a good place to live back here in New Brunswick. We were our landlords’ first choice for tenants. I pray every day for them, and that I will do all I can to keep this place. It is so good to be settled. It isn’t “perfect” but because we are satisfied with the circumstances, I am less concerned about “improving” it.

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