Last week, I participated in a trip to Florida with 10 other Princeton students to learn about the aftermath of the housing market crash in Florida. I at first intended to write a blog post everyday on the trip, but apparently the busy schedule (we had meetings/tours/volunteer everyday from 9am-8pm) did not allow me to achieve that intention. We traveled to several different cities, from Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, to Miami city, city of Miami Beach, Overtown city, Liberty city, etc. At each place, we had chance to do various things, including touring the foreclosed and abandoned houses, talking with different NGOs, meeting with government officials (in fact we had a meeting with the Mayor of city of Miami Beach), canvassing (knocking on door to door to offer helps to people who are forced to leave their home),… Considering the huge amount of things we did, and that I don’t have enough time to elaborate everything, I will write this post in the “stories format”; i.e., I will briefly retell the most profound stories that I took back from the trip.
Story #1: The chalkboard
Marc Joseph is a realtor, a person who facilitates house transaction. He is a bit different from other realtors: After 2008, he bought a bus for his 40th birthday (or so he says) and used it to give free tours around the foreclosed houses in the area. He seemed very knowledgeable, and surprisingly ethical. My stereotype of realtors has been that they just do everything they can to sell houses and make money; so I was very ambiguous about this guy. Anyways, he is not the main character of this story. He took us on a bus, drove us from house to house to introduce to us the foreclosed houses.
Marc Joseph took us to another house. This one looked particularly nicer than the previous four, which made me think that the ex-owner of this house probably used to be a bit more wealth-off. Anyways, it doesn’t matter any more, for now,3 years after the Housing crash, they all lost their houses. The story was probably the same for all of them: acquiring a house using a huge (and easy) mortgage, fulfilling the American dream (that everyone possesses a home), some of them tried to sell off the house later with higher price to make easy money, then housing price decreases, the market crashes and they all lost their houses.
The group dispersed around the house to look at what used to be the living place of a family. The house hasdthree bedrooms and two baths, the size for a typical American family. Just like the previous houses, every room was refurnished, so I could hardly tell what kind of family used to live here. However, as I entered a room at the right corner, the black object on the wall caught my attention. It was a chalkboard, with drawings and writings by the previous owner. Somehow the board was left untouched; it was not removed from the wall, and neither was the drawings on it. I looked at the wall, smiling and thinking about how cute this family was. My smile was put off when my eyes moved to the bottom-right corner, where inscribed the words
“I love you son, Mom :).
The last writing on the wall
It’s been a wonderful life. :)”
From then, I can’t stop feeling emotional about that chalkboard, and wondering what happened to this family after they moved out in November 2011. There are people who deserve the housing crash- because they tried to make money out of the housing bubble. This family is definitely not one of that kind. I am confident they just wanted to live a life and own a home – not just a house, but “home”. This family I’ve never met, but I admire them for their love to each other.