In 2015 we were getting frustrated with the people that lived behind us. There was trash everywhere around their house and they weren’t being respectful of the neighbors and neighborhood. We talked with the home owner a few times and it became clear that she didn’t have the capacity to handle the home or be a landlord anymore. We had some money saved up so we agreed on a price and bought the home. Alex knew much more about the situation and had a plan for renovating the home as he did to our home. He had seen the inside of the house, but I had not. I knew a family was living there for many years, but to be honest, I judged them for their outward decisions and didn’t make time to get to know them. After we purchased the home and walked into it, I had a new sense of who that family was, I had a new sense of their reality and I was heartbroken for how I judged them.
Alex knew what we were getting into before we bought our first rental but I had no clue. When I walked into the home, I saw children’s clothing, children’s shoes, an old Christmas tree, a TV left behind and many things but what stood out to me was the filth and dilapidation. I was so overwhelmed knowing that family, with many children, had lived there for years in such squalor. It wasn’t because they liked living in a situation like this, it was because they thought it was their only option. I walked into the bathroom and started to cry, it was worse than a gas station bathroom. The walls were black with filth and the toilet seat was one that was way too small for the lid. The bedroom had more filth on the walls and duck tap hiding holes. It was beyond disgusting and I just kept thinking of the kids who were growing up in this place. The thing that struck me was the children that lived in this home thought living in a home like this was normal, they might have even thought they deserved to live like this. They didn’t protest or make their landlord fix things. They didn’t call the police or whoever you call when a home should be condemned. I think about that family often, I wish I would have had the empathy to look past the things they did that annoyed me because now I can see why they did those things. When you live in a place has mice, roaches, and grime everywhere, you probably don’t care about keeping your alley immaculate or making sure your grass is cut well. There are many times I feel that I have let people down that live around me because I judge them too quickly but this is a time that I won’t forget. I can’t get the image out of my mind that small children lived in this home and continue to live in homes like this feeling it is normal. It makes Alex and I want to buy every house on the block so people can have a decent place. It is one more way we can shout to poor Black families that they matter, because having a home where there is filth on the wall isn’t OK. Living in a home that is so infested with mice that you have to shovel out cupboard is not OK. We now have 4 families in our rentals and we know we are not perfect landlords, but we also try to keep in mind that we have to provide families with a home that we would feel proud to live in. Alex and I talk this through and he tells his side of the story and what he has learned in our recent podcast episode. We talk about how we are constantly learning new ways of seeing people and how we have failed. I am happy that I can now look back on this experience with a new lenses but it also makes me wonder where I should be looking harder to see empathy instead of judgement.