Home is Where the Heart Is
Over the past four years at St. Lawrence, the university has become my home away from home. It went from being an unfamiliar place freshman year as I struggled to find the names on buildings to my comfort zone that I knew like the back of my hand. I love St. Lawrence and when I had the opportunity to spend one final summer on campus I jumped at the chance.
This summer I am interning at the St. Lawrence County Planning Office, working on a county-wide housing assessment project. New York State developed new guidelines for housing improvement and homeownership assistance programs. One new criterion was proof of a housing assessment. Since St. Lawrence County is the largest county by area in the state, one way I am assessing the housing units is through windshield surveys.
For a windshield survey, a driver and I map out all of the roads in a particular village or town, create a packet containing all of the road names and the various housing conditions, and get in a county car and drive all of the roads on our map. As we drive along, we observe the outside appearance of the homes, focusing on the roof, foundation, siding, doors, and windows. For each house we mark down whether or not it is in standard, substandard, or dilapidated condition. A standard home is one where the roof, siding, windows and doors, and foundation are all in good condition; substandard homes need one or two repairs to bring them up to standard condition; and a dilapidated home is one that no one should be living in.
One of the most eye-opening experiences for me has been the number of homes in substandard or dilapidated conditions surrounded by beautiful, standard homes. I've learned that this distribution of housing condition is common to the North Country and presents a unique challenge for the Planning Office when conducting rehabilitation and homeownership projects. This is in contrast to urban areas where substandard homes tend to be in certain geographic areas and aid is concentrated on those homes. In St. Lawrence County however, we cannot use this approach and assessing as many areas as possible helps us paint a more complete picture of housing conditions.
So far I have seen classic examples of rural poverty, including buildings in dilapidated condition that families are still living in. Before starting his internship, I did not have a strong grasp on the severity of housing conditions in St. Lawrence County, but now I have a newfound appreciation for the home I grew up in and the home St. Lawrence provided me for the past four years. I have come to understand that for many residents, their home, no matter the condition, is their source of belonging in the community. Home may be where the heart is even if one's heart is not in their home.