Subverting the Housing Crisis with Hospitality

How inviting people into our homes can heal weary souls

My family once spent four months living in someone’s converted attic. Two rooms, five people, and a baby in the closet. To say it was… cozy… well, that would be accurate. An optimistic oversimplification, but accurate.

We were on home assignment for what could’ve been a few months or several years (it turned out to be 2 ½ years). At the time, we simply could not afford to rent a place of our own. Our friends were mighty generous to offer this cozy space for free, and though it was not a long-term solution to our housing need, it was what we needed to re-settle and re-establish our life in back in the US.

Eventually we found an underpriced flat that would suit our weary family and cobbled together borrowed furnishings from family and friends. After those few months in the attic, this new home – though not Pinterest perfect – was an overwhelming gift we felt unworthy of.

God has never not taken care of us.                                               

More recently and back on Irish shores, our organisation welcomed a new family to Dublin, and I happily volunteered for virtual house hunting duties. I browsed daily, trying to find a suitable house for them and their young family, one that would fit their budget, their ministry and their tinies.

This was no small feat. Last month, The Irish Times reported 'that the increase in rent prices in the past three months has exceeded peak prices from the Celtic Tiger era – when we were in the middle of a property bubble,' with average monthly rent prices at its highest level... ever. Just this week I saw a listing for ‘a rare opportunity’ to rent a granny flat in our West Dublin village for €1000 per month.

As housing prices grow, so do the expectations and the fears. I read with apprehension one journalist’s escapades in buying a house in post-recession Dublin. Eithne Shortall writes with pithy humour about what can often be a cruel experience.

In last week’s column in the Sunday Times Ireland, she challenged the semantic differences between house and home, writing that the property ladder ‘immediately establishes house buying as a crass stock trade rather than a means of establishing a home.’

I can’t say that I’d know whether or not that’s true, as we’ve never set foot on the property ladder. While we have never owned a house, we’ve had many, many homes. Even our suburban semi-d, though not ours in deed, is ours in feeling. We are raising our children here, we cook clean and care for one another here, we even paint the walls and landscape the garden here. And we invite others in, here.

Hospitality – the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers – may just be the key distinction between house and home. One can own a house, but it’s a living breathing home that so many are searching for, whether it be attic or granny flat. Often that home doesn’t belong to us; rather, a home is where we are invited in.

With that idea in mind, I am learning to practice the domestic art of messy hospitality as my own form of protest over the housing crisis. We may not be able to host a family of refugees in our dining room-slash-office (my husband informs me our landlord may not be keen on the idea, and we so desperately want to keep him happy in this ultra-competitive market). And I doubt I have much wisdom to offer in solving the property ladder climbing party, but perhaps we can lessen the burden of those who are searching for homes and settling for houses.

We can pull out the sofa for a surprise visitor, set the table for a gaggle of 7-year-olds, pop into the Asian market for pumpkin seed biscuits (and forget to set them out). I can commit to hoovering once a week if it means I’m opening my doors just as often. So many have done this for me: our friends with the attic, our neighbours’ Christmas table in County Meath, our church families spread out between oceans.

This is what followers of Jesus do: we invite people in. It’s as much challenge to me as it is to anyone else.

So every month or so, I’ll report back on this idea and keep you apprised on my hospitality experiments: the good, the bad and the ugly. I hope to offer some resources and links, and I want to hear your ideas and stories, too. How can we offer up our homes, our time and our resources in practical, natural ways?

Let’s subvert the bad news with some good and see if open doors and open hearts can really change the world, or at least our corner of it.