Today I have some exciting news that I can’t believe I get to finally share with you: I bought my first house! It is a 100-year-old house on one-third of an acre in upstate New York!
Actually, I closed on it nearly three weeks ago, and if you’ve read my letters, you already knew this. But I haven’t officially shared here, as I have been wrapping my heart, head, and body around the news. Sharing it here makes it feel so official. It has been a wild, wild winter, and I am feeling the relief of summer, and the hope of something bright and new–and quite old.
In my opinion, the purchase was long. Three months of time stretched, secrets kept, papers, more papers, calls day and night, and a roller coaster of anxiety that I couldn’t have imagined. While I believe my financial history showed I was a viable candidate for a house, the purchase wasn’t easy. Yes, this was partly due to the nature of my work as a writer; but being a single woman, a single Black woman, confirmed issues that BIPOC historically face when buying homes. It’s nothing new: a Black woman was discriminated against as she was seeking an appraisal; relief for Black farmers was suddenly halted by a judge; and there is a general preference for white buyers in our country’s history.
Knowing all of these things, even without reading the articles, made land ownership of any form a foreign concept to me. As a city dweller, the relationship to buying seemed constantly fraught, out of reach even. I explained this a little in my conversation with Anne Helen Petersen in Culture Study: “I never dreamed of owning anything. I grew up mostly in the city, so owning a piece of property is a strange and distant process. And then you consider the way lenders and federal/local governments have used tactics to make ownership nearly impossible for Black folks. The people I know who’ve owned a home all come from money, whether they’re honest about it or hiding it. It’s there. And that’s not a life I was able to even hold as truth for myself or my close community.”
But a few strange things happened as a result of staying at home for months on end because of the pandemic: I sold a book this summer, all about home! It isn’t at all like Woman Of Color, really. It requires more literary time and energy. It requires a different kind of heart and a ton of research and conversations. And while it is my book, the more I write it, the more I realize it is everyone’s book. But the book itself and the subject, provided a springboard, if you will. After feeling disappointed during quarantine by the amount of white and well-to-do people who had access to second and third houses outside of the city to flee to, my sadness for NYC turned to frustration. At times, it was outright anger. Instead of wanting New York City to come out of its sedentary state, I wanted all those who escaped to remain away, leaving those of us who stayed to our wild, loyal selves..
Even during quarantine, I didn’t want to escape the city like others; but I did want to come out of the pandemic knowing that my energy and anger could be folded into my own journey of home ownership and true equity. In truth, I could at once research the topic about which I was tasked to write, while consenting to be part of a structure and system that I know is problematic, but that could be mine as well. Can a Black person know that something is meant to keep them behind but still wants to be part of that something? Yes, entirely.
Of course, there’s also the reality of not just my own Blackness and career, but also in that I didn’t have family or friends to financially help me in the purchase. While difficult, this is likely one of the most gratfitying aspects of the journey. For all those women out there with hopes and dreams of this nature too, I want to say this because I think it helps hearing: I purchased this house alone. With my own money. A home to show myself and my children. The kids didn’t know about the house. I surprised them two weeks ago in what was an emotional event, touring them through their rooms, their yard, their flowers, the spot where a play house will live. A place for their childhood, and then, a place for them to do with as they wish, generationally. A place to serve and keep serving our family.
For me, the house was a sort of catalyst, a middle finger, if I’m being honest, to the very system that tried to keep me out. I am equally thankful as I am aware of the struggle. It is strange and wonderful, and I hope to write about it deeper in my book.
We aren’t leaving the city! I spent months with my realtor, Steven, planning that part out. Commuting back-and-forth to Brooklyn is doable and sustainable. He patiently showed me every house available within my general hopes and dreams. Everytime I would see a house outside of those dreams (budget and location, mostly), Steven worked to bring me back to my true goals. He knew everything there was to know, and, even before I did, he knew which area and then which house I would eventually call home and open to visitors.
While the house will be a place for the kids and I to go, it is also a place for others to go. We will selectively choose families and friends to stay on the property and land. The cost of those rentals will provide the overhead for a low-lift residency for a BIPOC person or family to stay at the house as well! You can read more about the residency right here.
The house is accessible by Amtrack, which was also so important to me. Again, as a city person, but also as someone who recognizes the inequality of accessibility in just having something be accessible. Trains, while arguably more sustainable than cars, are also such an easy route for folks in the city and beyond.
Although I am renting the house, I am not interested in making an income from it. The house is the seed I will sow from the book, and from that, the book will continue to provide. My only desire is to pay the house’s overhead and split what remains between saving for River and Oak’s college fund, then granting safe opportunity to a person or family who needs it at no cost and donating to local BIPOC organizations in the Hudson Valley area where Black families have been disproportionately pushed out over the last few generations. (I love Grow Black Hudson’s work) I anticipate the residences will grow along with the rentals, and I hope in sharing this dream with you, you’ll consider the house when you’re next on a vacation upstate.
From the conception to the renovation and the design, this house is held with the intention of equity. We are working with amazing sustainable brands and makers to bring the house’s design a little back in time, but up-to-date for clean, comfortable modern living. Designing has been such a full-time job, but imagining my children picking vegetables off of the land, picturing others resting in the sun on the lawn or keeping warm by the fire has truly propelled our work. Each piece, each tile, each idea has a story.
It is so wonderful, and writing it down is helping me realize what I’m doing here, how this is something bigger than just a roof over our heads. It is something that I think will not only change the landscape of my life with my children, but the lives of others as well.
You can find out more about The Mae House and its mission right here. You can see some daily design, renovation and storytelling BTS on our instagram page. And you can be the first to book via my letters (where I’ll share more of the intimate portions of the design and house process) by subscribing . Thank you for joining me on this journey. Welcome to our community.
“Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them. Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer. Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need. Take only that which is given. Never take more than half. Leave some for others. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share. Give thanks for what you have been given. Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken. Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.” ― Robin Wall Kimmerer
(Art by Rani Ban for LY)