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Putting the heart back in homes

Published August 20. 2011 09:02AM

It's late afternoon, and the sun glints off the tall aluminum ladder that Jim Cimms has propped against the southwest side of our old farmhouse. Jim's at the top of the ladder, smoothing a layer of pristine white paint on the newly scraped and sanded wooden clapboards near the roof.

It does my heart good to see this, our family home and the anchor of our lives, being painted. It was painted last in 2001, for the first time since it was built in 1910. Between those years, it suffered, with moisture seeping through the weathered clapboards. The painting crew in 2001 had to replace a lot of wood; this summer, Jim, a local contractor who specializes in old homes, has rebuilt the end of the porch roof and replaced the rotted wood corner pieces above it. He's painted the shutters with a fresh coat of dark green, and cleaned out the gutters that are too high for us to safely reach.

Taking care of our home is a priority. Long after I'm gone, my grandchildren's children will, I hope, run up and down the same stairs my daughters did, snuggle into the same quiet nooks to become lost in good books, sit on the second-story porch to watch the deer graze and watch in awe as the blue heron flies its route to the reservoir.

Our home is the heart of our family; it's where we gather for Sunday dinners and holidays, where we find peace and quiet and relaxation after a long day's work. It's our anchor in an uncertain world.

Because I so cherish our home, it baffles and saddens me to learn of so many homes rotting from neglect. The problem is especially evident in Coaldale and Lansford, where too many homes have been bought by people who care only for the rent money they bring in or who abandon thier homes.

While most landlords and tenants do the right thing, others are not invested in them, nor are they invested in the community that surrounds them. Trash and broken toys pile up on sagging porches, cracked or broken windows are covered with cardboard or plywood, unwashed siding turns gray with dirt.

These homes are the hearts of nobody's family.

Town councils and code officers do their best one dilapidated home can bring down a neighborhood. But absentee landlords are often hard to find, and the legal process to force them to fix their properties, or have them torn down, is costly and daunting. People who rent are often caught in the middle of battles between negligent landlords and borough leaders.

Driving the problem is a sea change in our culture: The families that once put down roots, built churches and schools and worked hard to establish communities are dwindling. Homes are too-often bought by people who see them as an easy buck. They rent to people who are for a variety of reasons mired in poverty and without community ties or solid, longterm strategies for wellbeing. They move in, at least for awhile.

The solution isn't simple or easy. It involves creating permanent jobs so families can afford to buy homes, fostering community involvement and stability. It also involves knitting close communities, where neighbors are comfortable stepping in to lend a hand or hammer a few nails for those who cannot afford to hire professionals.

Maybe, if that comes about, everyone's home will again be the hub of family life, to be cherished and cared-for and handed down through generations.

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