Houses In Our Time: Costs, Choices, Wants, Needs

Dear Readers!

It’s likely good for me to keep following leads that show up on internet – keeps me ‘honest’ in my observations? This New York Post article by David Streitfeld, “Building is Booming in a City of Empty Houses” certainly reminds me that not all of us view the world similarly, and perhaps don’t even live on the same planet!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/16/business/16builder.html?pagewanted=1&ref=business&src=me

A couple of key excerpts from the article: “… And many Americans will always believe the latest model of something is their only option, an attitude builders are doing their utmost to reinforce.” … and … “ “We’re building them because we’re selling them,” Mr. Anderson said. “Our customers wouldn’t care if there were 50 homes in an established neighborhood of 1980 or 1990 vintage, all foreclosed, empty and for sale at $10,000 less. They want new. And what are we going to do, let someone else build it?” ”

Two action ideas described in the quoted lines are:  1- “We must have the newest, shiniest, …”; and 2-“If I don’t agree to cater to this want, someone else will, …”.  In both ideas, consideration of actual need seems not to applyWant trumps need.

Sound, reliable, housing is a need.  Aspects of home design that contribute to  pleasantness are also something of a need, (but are not life/death and can be created often quite inexpensively).  The farther a house gets from basic functionality, the more its cost is a matter of “want”.

Already existing homes represent time, effort, resource expenditure and habitat destruction.  Energy has been used: raw materials  extracted, transported, processed into product, the products transported, and in the final energy use have been assembled into a building – a house. There has been habitat destruction during extraction of raw materials and while converting land use to a home-building site.

The thinking described by the article does not line up with my imagined “new focus on less material goals”! Critically necessary  for our earth/life challenged time, a focus-shift to “needs trump wants” is not expressed by those interviewed in the article.

I often suggest such a shift, recognizing what is actually needed, is essential if we are to find our way to “the best we can be”. I don’t expect everyone to go “as far as I try to go”. I concede to capacity for extremes! But ….

…. Here on my planet, I’m engaged in a very modest budget, projects-when-cash-available, (and cash only), long-term “salvage operation” — for an also very modest but ‘worthy’ 115 year old frame cottage! As I’ve told the contractor and crew, from my point of view it would have taken massive “per unit” resource expenditure to have first demolished this cottage, then hauled it to an already full land-fill, then acquire some trees and other primary resources, (while demolishing habitats), haul these to processing plants to be turned into new building materials, then use more resources to put all the pieces together to construct a new house!

During this time I would have had to find a place to live – and likely would be paying a lot of interest on loans. I would also have constant ‘cash flow’ stress “in my face”.  The stress would tend to “push” me toward a kind of “mainstream consumption driven approach to life” that I do not want as controlling motivator.

I’m spending a lot of $$ that I meant to spend in other ways.** But after a couple of years, some of what I’m doing is beginning to take shape. Possibilities I saw in my house are starting to emerge. The dollars I am spending are going straight into real product, and into the pockets of contractor and crew, in a region where contractors have suffered lots of income loss. I like the directness of where the money goes. Immediate practical function.

I’ll never recover my costs. But I have a roof, and as of last week a back door I can close without needing a bungee cord to hold it shut!! (Small wonders can be very powerful when living close to the margins of “the modern American lifestyle”!). Volunteer carrots and onions are abundant in my garden beds, (will see what they do – why plant more?) Any birds catching any insects on my property are assured there will be no pesticide related toxins in their diets, any soil critters can carry on without “collateral effect” of herbicides as I use none.

I’m not participating much in the overall “money based machine” that drives our culture. But I like to think the money I do have, and do spend, supports “life” – not only mine, not only the contractors and their families, but also birds, insects, plants, and the full range of creepy-crawlies not of threat to me! (Rattlesnakes and black widow spiders have, unfortunately, been un-invited, even though they were here first.)

**When I bought my place, seen by photos only, from my Canadian perch at the time, I had plans to ‘fix it up’, but not to “re-build” the house! I was thinking in “cosmetic” terms! The house, it turns out, is sound enough, but structural issues, mostly related to foundation, in turn related to moisture, have meant “cosmetic upgrading” is “off the table”. Given a very modest income to work with, the “life” I “meant” to develop in my new place took a 180d turn. My “life” is fully centered in logistics of the salvage operation. I believe it will take a full decade to get close to what I thought I might accomplish before I discovered the foundation/moisture situation. Even at that, some common cosmetic and upgrade practices (repair plaster, replace windows?) may not be done.

Who am I doing this for? Birds, bugs, soil microbes, plants, and humans! The house and land have a quality of “felt energy” that is positive, that “offers itself”, that can be described as a “generous smile”. It is a ‘cottage’ in this respect, and as I said, seems ‘worthy’. Human beneficiaries, as yet unknown, will, I hope, experience what I know this place can offer, without need to work quite so much to “make it so”!

When I look at it with “comparative eyes” against  “the mainstream housing chase” I can easily see how my cottage and its land “don’t match up”!

But I can “see” this house and land enjoyed by others in the future. Don’t know if it will be a young family, an individual, … don’t know who. Whomever it is, will likely be from my same planet, or one very similar. I sort of hope no one “sophisticates” the house so thoroughly that it’s unique qualities are masked.

I’m pretty sure the folks described in the article, from Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson (southern California and Florida are also mentioned) won’t be in the market for my place, given that our perspectives create such dissimilar goals and realities!

My Best! –MaggieAnn

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About maggieannthoeni

A description once given of me was "rooted in the earth while roaming the stars" - and this has felt 'right'. I believe in something akin to this for each of us. I am a passionate supporter of discovering the autonomous self while serving the whole as primary intent. I believe in discovery of innate principles, clearing the overlay of socialization that obscures this from us. I believe it is our responsibility to leave no one behind - most particularly to respond to suffering as best we can whereever we find it, whenever we are made aware. I believe in this for the insect as well as the most magnificent form of humanity. I believe in brother/sisterhood without boundary. I believe in righteous indignation when it is appropriate, but do not believe in an enemy. I believe in consciousness, in intelligence, in logic, in rationality, in emotion, in transcendence - and am convinced until we generally practice explore and honor all this in ourselves, we remain profoundly immature. (I believe real maturity is known and practiced by many young children, and not enough adults!)
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