It was four and a half years ago when I signed the papers and took possession of the keys, making me the owner — subject to a whopping mortgage, you may be sure — of what I semi-jokingly call "the palatial estate at Surlywood." The house is a tad short of 1100 square feet, so "palatial" is arguable; the tract of land upon which it sits is a tad over 11,000 square feet, which makes "estate" sound implausible. But a man's home is his castle, or so they say, and this is mine.

I was doing some shopping today on the far north end of the city and in Edmond, and down the old section-line roads, now not-so-hurriedly being converted to suburban avenues, I saw lots of castles, or at least their rooflines: some were comparatively accessible, in the sense that you could drive up and look at them, but others were locked away. Not that I have a problem with gated communities — I have friends who live behind those walls — but I found myself wondering about the motivation.

Obviously A builds a fence to keep out B, but who is B? A disfavored ethnic group, perhaps? I don't think so. Not to say that the old (and illegal) practice of redlining has completely died out, but in the main, be you black, brown, white or yellow, or some combination thereof, your money's still green and you can buy in.

Then it hit me: the key word here is "buy." The majority of homes in gated communities are occupied by their owners; seldom are they offered for rent. This can be partially explained by market forces, particularly in areas where the housing "bubble" has been deflating: it makes no sense to shell out $3000 a month for a house and then lease it to someone else for $2000. (Here in Soonerland, there's less of a gap: a house in my neighborhood that you could rent for $800 a month, you could probably buy for $800 a month if you could qualify for the loan.) But to some people, "renters" calls up unpleasant memories of people they moved to get away from in the first place. One of my motivations in buying this place was to acquire some separation between myself and the sort of folks who thought nothing of kicking in someone's door for no discernible gain or who were careless enough to set the building on fire.

Way back in Vent #377, I said this:

Conventional wisdom holds that there are two kinds of residents: those who want to live at point X, and those who have no choice but to live at point X. It can probably be assumed, in the absence of de jure segregation, that the latter condition is mostly a function of economics; I could theoretically choose to live in, say, a spiffy new subdivision on the edge of town, but I couldn't possibly pony up the price of entry. At every price point, there is someone who can afford it, and someone else who can't.

But what happens to those who can't?

[T]he government's Housing Choice Vouchers, known familiarly as "Section 8", attempt to fill the gap, and local public-housing authorities administer the program, which has the effect, intentional or otherwise, of doubling the available bureaucracy without necessarily increasing the availability of housing, since landlords are under no obligation to accept Section 8 tenants and there is a belief among many, landlords included, that Section 8 residents are, for various reasons relating to property damage and other misdeeds, just about the least desirable.

And so your neighbor or mine, having had it up to here, sells his modest home to an investor, packs his bags and moves to a castle somewhere behind a wall, paying a premium for the privilege and thinking himself wise for having escaped the jungle out there. Maybe he is. I don't think I want to be quite that inaccessible — yet.

The Vent

  17 May 2008

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