We humans either have it, or we don’t. Either way, the issue permeates our lives—if we’ll see it.

We’ve tried to make a dent in the needs around us, writing housing grants for young adults who have aged out of foster care, or temporarily hosting children whose parents lack a front door of their own to lock each night.

A wave of gratefulness soaks me again today. The roof over our heads never gets old.


Here’s the story—first published on September 25, 2014—of how we found ours.


On a glowing recommendation from my sister, we hired Mr. Brylcreem—a chain-smoking, sixty-something realtor with a high tolerance for hood living. Mr. B lived in a grand, old Victorian in a sketchy neighborhood in south Minneapolis, so he knew what he was doing. Right away, I liked his blue eyes and warm, fatherly manner. 

Husband and I sat down with him in a coffee shop in April, 2002, and told Mr. B our real estate hopes and dreams. I wanted to stay home with the little ones, and Husband supported me, so we would have to swing this thing on one salary. We gave him our price range—an easy mortgage for us. We wanted an old house, an inner-city experience too, we said, and would he please restrict his search to Minneapolis proper? Mr. B was happy to comply and started sending us leads immediately.

Husband and I printed off the first four listings from Mr. B and got in the car to go and take a look. After ten years of marriage, we were excited to hunt together for our first house. I gazed at Husband’s profile as he drove, committing the moment to memory.

We pulled up to the first listing—a house right off 35W. I liked the vintage. Then we drove through the alley to inspect the unattached garage. Gang tagging marked its side, and the word “blood” was in all caps. We sighed and crossed it off the list.

My stomach leapt with excitement at the second house on our hunt. Charming, old, and near Uptown. Perfect. Until we got out of the car and read the sign affixed to the door. UNFIT FOR HUMAN HABITATION: Condemned due to lead paint. Undaunted, I cupped my hands around my eyes and peered through the front door’s beveled glass window.

“How long until it becomes fit for human habitation, do you think?” I said to Husband.

“Too long. Let’s go.”

We got in the car and drove to our meeting spot with Mr. B. He had the keys for the next couple of houses we’d see.

The house in listing #3 didn’t have any discernible right angles; the floors slanted in every room. The pedestal ashtray overflowed with cigarette butts. The mirrored ceiling tiles in the kitchen were impressive, but what about greasy spatters? I pictured tomato sauce accidents or heaven forbid, the explosion of a pressure cooker. What if one of the mirrors broke, and a shard of glass impaled me while I washed dishes? We shook our heads and moved on.

I liked what I saw when we pulled up to the curb in front of house #4. Old charm again. This time, a Tudor style. I envisioned Christmas lights twinkling through the windows, a snow-covered sidewalk, and a wreath hung jauntily from the door in December.

I heard a dog bark as we climbed the front steps. Mr. B wiggled the key into the lock.

“I hope they put the dog away when they left,” he said over his shoulder.

He pushed open the door and took a few steps into the living room. Like two eager kids, we followed close on his heels. A snarling Rottweiler appeared in the kitchen doorway a room away. In a split second, the animal clawed his way, lips flapping, across the expanse of the living room’s wood floor, bent on meeting us as soon as possible. Just before the dog could introduce himself, though, Mr. B hustled us out, yanking the door shut. He secured the lock and smoothed his hair.

“So that house’s out,” he said cheerfully.

We got back in the car and called it a day.

Husband resumed his work schedule for the week and continued his temporary living arrangements, couch hopping between my brother’s and sister’s houses in south Minneapolis. Homeless, I headed back up north to Mom and Dad’s. With both little ones in diapers and one breastfeeding, the six-hour trip took eight.

Husband fielded house listings from Mr. B. I couldn’t hop on the road for home tours at the drop of a hat, so he would weed out the undesirables and tell me about the promising ones, which we noticed were immediately snapped up. I told Husband he knew what I liked and to just pick one and make an offer if he got the chance.

Early in May, Mr. B contacted us with another lead. This time, the house wasn’t going to be advertised. It belonged to his son’s best friend, and he’d consider selling it for the right price. Husband made an appointment to see it. Afterward, he called me.

“It’s good,” he said.

“As in, I’d like it?”

“You’d love it. Might be your dream house.”

His description sounded like the house my grandparents had owned in south Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood. He sent seventeen pictures by email, and excitement bubbled up in me. A small Craftsman-style meets bungalow. The kind Sears Catalog sold back in the day as a kit house. And yes, my dream house. I urged him to make an offer, and he did. The homeowners accepted.

Soon I was making the trek back down to Minneapolis. Husband and I parked the car in front of our future house. The homeowner, Brian, fresh scrubbed and smiley, walked us through it for Husband’s second viewing and my first.

“My wife had two babies in this house,” Brian said. “I mean, in this house. Don’t know what’s so bad about the hospital.” He showed us the two main level bedrooms that had hosted the home births.

“Wow,” Husband said.

An overloaded coat rack obstructed the view through the living room window and a massive dog kennel blocked movement in the tiny kitchen, but none of that tainted my first impression; I could envision our future there. Back again in the car after the tour, my heart was on fire.

By the end of May, we signed the papers. We were homeowners. And on June 1, having moved all our furniture and boxes in, we looked out at our north Minneapolis neighborhood from windows that belonged to us.


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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.