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Affordable Housing

Navigating The Housing Maze, And Finding A Purpose

21 October 2014

Sarah Hoecker, recent graduate of the Westfield State University regional planning program.

Housing may be the single most important thing in a person's life, yet it is not guaranteed. The harsh free market dictates prices; locations and availability are products of legislation and lending practices. These factors are removed from the individual, but act directly upon them.

I left home at seventeen after the strain of living with my mentally ill mother had become more than I could take. I shared a one-bedroom apartment with a friend to make ends meet. It was hard to balance work and school, and within a few months I was forced to move in with my grandparents so I could complete my senior year. After graduation, I was back out on my own. I found a small one-bedroom apartment and worked over forty hours per week. When I wanted to take classes at the local community college, I was told that I was considered my parent's dependent until age 25 for the purposes of receiving financial aid. Family support was not an option. Disappointed, I cashed in bonds that hadn't matured to start my higher education.

Then I met my son's father, whose drama got me kicked out of my apartment. We lived in a flop house until I saved up enough money for a new place. I worked hard -- sometimes sixty hours a week -- to keep a roof over our head, until I got pregnant and could not keep up the pace anymore. At that time I realized just how bad things were. I could not subject a baby to the life I was living. I moved back in with my mother, and put myself on every local housing list and was told the wait would be a few years. At the time, my son's father's grandmother managed a housing complex. She 'bumped' me to the top of the list and got me into an apartment when my son was three months old.

As a single mom, financial aid for school was now available. I completed an associate's degree in international studies. I thought about pursuing social work. In the meantime, my name had come to the top of the list for a new project built in an affluent community south of where I had been living. I jumped at the opportunity to move to a better location. I started classes at a Westfield State University and realized my calling to be a planner. I learned the intricacies of city planning and their effect on social stratification, housing availability and access to services, and wrote my senior thesis on my housing development.

My personal struggles with housing and poverty have inspired me to pursue a career in housing advocacy. I know I want to help other people like me.

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