“We’re all renting.”

This is something my husband always says. Why does this matter? Well, you see, our little family rents a two-bedroom apartment in the Toronto area, fairly close to the downtown core. He works downtown, so it is convenient and it cuts a ton off his travel time and expense. It is also extremely central. Whether going north, south, east or west, it takes us anywhere between 15 – 45 minutes driving, with regular traffic, to get to the outermost parts of the Greater Toronto Area. It works for us!

In Home Ownership We Trust?

Now, I lived in the Caribbean for 12 years (where my parents owned and built a beautiful house) then immigrated to Canada; my husband’s parents are also Caribbean. A great deal of our family and friends, the majority of them being black, own homes or want to. So, you can see why there are a few comments or questions that seem to follow us everywhere. “So, when are you guys planning on buying a place?” or “It would be so nice for you to buy a place.” Then there are the questions like, “You moved? Did you buy a house/condo?” To which we reply, “Nope, it’s an apartment.” To which ‘they’ reply, “Oh.” End of conversation.

Having a BA in Urban Studies, I spent time learning about urbanization and the origin of the North American housing market. I have read historical evidence to show how the housing market has changed and has been marketed as a consumer product or symbol of success for decades. For this reason, home ownership has become a staple in North American society. It has become a form of identity, a symbol of success, an indicator of security and medal to those who invest wisely; the inherent undertone being “in home ownership we trust.”

Remember the financial crisis 2007-2008, which, in part, consisted of the huge crash in the housing market? I will skip all the technicalities for your sake. I would even recommend watching The Big Short (2015) movie to most if the content was not so crude. The movie is based on the book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis. Give it a read if you are really interested. The point is the trust put in the idea of the housing market never failing…failed miserably.

Housing in general is already expensive, especially in Metropolitan areas. With the growing gaps between cost of living and wage increases, most people on average use 45% of their income or more to cover housing costs.  Your transportation is also a part of your housing costs – even if you are in denial and want to believe that you are saving money.

For my family, not purchasing a house at this time has allowed us to live in a more convenient area and allocate our income to various things without worrying about our living costs. We have also avoided incurring great amounts of debt, paid off the majority of our student loans, and have allocated income to deal with a financial emergency.

My argument is not for or against home ownership, but against it being wielded as a symbol of status, success, good investment and identity, especially in the black Christian community. It bothers me to watch believers succumb to this pseudo-god, which tries to promise us that we have arrived, or we belong or we have achieved. Even more, in the absence of the purchased home, a gnawing feeling develops urging us to do better or to invest wisely, or reminding us that we have failed in our efforts to achieve something and become someone.

The Reality of Home Ownership for the Christian

As children of God, what does His Word say? Paul tells us to “set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3). As Christians, we joyfully (and sometimes not so joyfully) give up the right to ‘our’ life and ‘our’ pursuits to be defined by Christ and His callings for us. Like Abraham, we look forward to the city designed and built by our God, a better country, prepared for us (Hebrews 11:10,16).  Jesus tells his disciples, “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2-3) And us too. The people of God have another home, a God-built home, an eternal home. So why should owning an earthly home make us so fussy?

Ecclesiastes is probably my favorite book in the Bible, probably due to my majorly melancholic temperament. However, I find that it brings clarity to many areas of life.

“All go to one place. All are from the dust and to dust all return” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). The Bible had it right, long before science. The book concludes, “…Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). We are God’s. We were made by Him and for Him. He defines us and He is to be one the throne of our hearts, not our house.

Believe me, it can be hard with all these real estate shows, renovation shows, interior design shows and websites. I too have suffered with the Apartment Therapy bug, watched marathons of Property Brothers and have dreamed of having my own home or condominium to rip apart and redesign. Maybe I will have that opportunity, maybe not. But what is it really worth? “…Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

We must ultimately remember this, “…there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” We cannot take anything out, so we must make the right investment. We must make God our treasure (Matthew 6:21). Only God offers us an everlasting home, true security (Psalms 16:9) and a beautiful inheritance (Psalms 16:6). We must endeavor daily to find our worth in Him alone.

Why do you there is such a weight place on home ownership as a form of identity in black Christian community?