“Home” is a lot of things. It is a place to feel safe and a place to share the warmth of fellowship with friends and family. Home is also a place to relax and a place that should bring joy. In other words, home is a sanctuary. A home occupied by renters is no less a sanctuary to them than one in which an owner lives.
Recently I attended a state commission meeting in which an attorney representing Charlestown spoke in defense of an ordinance that enables the city to levy hefty fines on property owners. The attorney assured the commission that since use of the ordinance began, “at no point has anyone identified anyone who was actually forced out of their home.” Many of us know someone who has left the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood, the subject of the attorney’s remarks, and it is hard not to cringe when you drive through the area now and see bulldozed debris on the ground where once stood structures that someone called “home.”
Due to excessively high fines, hundreds of houses in Charlestown have been reluctantly sold at below market value to a developer who demolishes rather than repair them – the only way to alleviate the fines. Those structures were homes for the renters living in them, and they most certainly were forced out. Some people have created other homes in neighboring communities and some have managed to stay in Charlestown. I have heard stories of families who engaged in couch surfing with friends to allow their children to finish school in Charlestown before settling elsewhere. The exodus was so great, that even the city admitted to taking steps to stagger their departure.
To say “no one has been kicked out of their homes” is deceitful, harmful, and divisive. To say that a person who rents does not live in a home is to deny that they are our neighbors and friends. Renters pay taxes, shop at our stores, and eat at our restaurants. Renters, our friends and neighbors, send their children to our schools. Renters vote. And most certainly, renters establish homes among us in Charlestown. The renters who lived in Pleasant Ridge are people who were forced to leave their homes. No amount of repetition of the city’s false narrative can change that or the collective responsibility that we bear toward one another as a community.
Rental property plays an important role in Charlestown’s economy. As of 2016, 37% of housing in town was rental property. The city’s administration should treat renters and homeowners equally and cease with the harmful mistreatment of those who decide for a variety of personal reasons to rent rather than purchase. After all, a home is not necessarily owned by the people who live inside.
Only minutes after assuring the commissioners that nobody in Charlestown had been forcefully removed, the attorney for the city slipped and referred to one of the demolished structures as a “home.” I believe that the attorney revealed a glimpse of the truth in that statement. I hope that the good members of Indiana’s Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission saw that ray of truth also.
After all, a house does not make a home…it’s always the people inside that become our neighbors and friends. People are the only true ingredient for a home.
Treva Hodges is a resident and current candidate for mayor of Charlestown. She is a Graduate Teaching Assistant and is finishing her Ph.D. in Humanities at the University of Louisville with a focus in Public History and Women & Gender Studies. Her dissertation examines the collective memory of the traumatic captivity narrative of Cynthia Ann Parker, a Texas settler woman who lived in a kinship relationship with Comanche for the majority of her life.