Under all is the land. A simple statement that begins the Realtor’s Code of Ethics, but a larger idea that is beginning to drive my thoughts, this idea that real estate creates freedom. I’m not talking about financial freedom, although that is certainly a possibility. I’m thinking of the specific, unique, and completely human independence that land ownership creates. We are a nation of land owners- a remarkable thing, would you agree? Property ownership in America removes dependence on a landlord, or a government, something that many of us take for granted, however, the right to own property, and a government created to protect its citizen’s right to own property, is extraordinary.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Leah Werner from the East End Community Development Center and she told me about the changes that home ownership was bringing to the Twin Towers neighborhood in East Dayton. You know that neighborhood, don’t you? History has not been kind to this community as property values have plummeted, and development and reinvestment has been minimal. A high percentage of renters can create a large community of people who are dependent on someone else for the very basic human need of shelter. The East End CDC is working within the neighborhood to recreate a community of home owners. By tearing down the worst of the blight, by rebuilding property that is secure, safe, healthy, the Twin Towers Community is creating a neighborhood that once again celebrates a citizen’s right to own property. As Leah told me, “Housing plays an integral part in the success of families.”
Leah told me about a young mother and her sons who are moving back to Twin Towers from the suburb of Kettering. This mother wants to live next to her father, a long term renter who lives in rehabbed bungalow. Her sons will take advantage of Ruskin Elementary and the sense of ownership that Ruskin has created among the parents in that area. The mother will live in one of the homes that the East End CDC helped to build- infill housing that will plant roots for a family, and seeds of development for a community.
This work of transforming neighborhoods is hard work. It’s knuckle-busting, red tape slicing, cultural divide leaping work that in older neighborhoods throughout Dayton, can only happen family by family, house by house. In other parts of the country entire neighborhoods are built, one neighborhood right after another. Tidy rows of stucco and red tile roofs, for miles and miles- *Poof* a neighborhood is created. *Poof* a community of like minded people, all with similar experiences moves in and it’s rather comfy that way, isn’t it? The story of Twin Towers, however, is a personal journey taken by each resident, one family at a time: This home is 100 years old, this home is brand new: This family is from Appalachia, that gentleman is from Rwanda: This path to freedom is messier, taken in small steps and private victories.
I’m thinking of what land ownership must have meant to the immigrants in my own family. How did the hills of Kentucky hold the key to freedom for the Irish patriarch who went into the mines every day? What did the home on the banks of the Ohio River mean to the Austrians who left everything they knew, just for the opportunity to create a life from their own hard work?
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. …
The Twin Towers of St Mary stand as Dayton’s New Colossus- a melting pot of Latino, Eastern European, African, Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants who are transforming this neighborhood one family at a time, creating new generations who are beginning to understand that the right to own property is the key to independence and freedom.
… Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”