Build Houses and Live in Them

Focus Scripture: Jeremiah 29:1-13

Around 1965, the local Urban Renewal Project began buying up property that was to be demolished to make way for new homes. The new rental-type units were part of a program to provide what the government deemed decent, safe and sanitary housing. Plans included installation of telephone, gas, and electric lines by private utility companies. People who had the means were going to be able to build their new homes in the community. My family was fortunate enough to be able to construct in the new subdivision. That’s where I live now. Carrie Mae Benson tells the story:

“I recall a time when the Urban Renewal man showed up at my parent’s house in his black Lincoln Continental. He was skinny and pale and dressed in a navy blue suit with his shirt collar drawn up tight around his neck. Sweat dampened his collar in the hot sun. He told my father that the government was going to begin demolition on our parcel soon. My family had to be out before the end of August. The Urban Renewal man handed my father a check and never looked back as he sped down Sherman Street and vanished into the distance, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake.

“I asked my father one time what it meant to rehabilitate something,” Carrie Mae said. “He told me it meant that somebody wanted to take something that’s already here and turn it into something different. He explained to me that they would split up our families and that the government would rent that same land back to us in the form of apartments that wouldn’t even belong to us.

“It meant that our way of life would be completely different. But that was back then,” Carrie Mae said. “That was almost 50 years ago. As older residents died or grew old and moved away, newcomers began to take their place. Similar projects in the city had displaced most of the newcomers. Consequently, a lot of poor city dwellers relocated to Middlesex in search of decent places to live.

“The only thing is that when the newcomers arrived, they were not welcomed with open arms. Instead, the usual things that divide the oppressors from the oppressed confronted them. Not only that; Oakwood and Middlesex people refused to talk to each other about their similarities and differences, their shared hopes and their dreams. And with communication at an impasse, mistrust was high. People began to sink into hopelessness, anger, and even despair. They became cynical, apathetic, and sometimes violent. We need to find a balance point.”

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