In the late 1990s, when my children were at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School, my family would participate in the annual Christmas in April projects sponsored by the Kiwanis Club.

Every year, a house owned by a family of limited means would be identified and the Kiwanis members would organize a work weekend to do repairs. Lots of families volunteered, the Soroptimists provided lunch and it was a rewarding experience for all concerned. To this day, whenever my daughter (now in her 30s with her own little ones) drives by one of the houses, she will say “Remember when we worked on that house?”

One of those homes was located at 1781 Sulphur Springs Road. As I recall, an older couple lived in the home and had raised their family there. The volunteer team replaced some windows, refloored the bathroom, cleaned up the yard and completed other repairs. My family was assigned to help paint the exterior.

That same house – a 1416 square-foot, three bedroom, two bath home -- is now on the market for $1,785,000. From the photos I saw online, the house looks great: beautiful finishes inside and a nicely appointed outdoor area. I do not know what happened to the couple that lived there when Christmas in April did its work nor how many times the house may have changed hands since then.

What I do know is that today a family will need a $357,000 cash down payment with a monthly mortgage of $8,486 (including tax and insurance) to be able to live in that house. It would require an annual income of more than $300,000 to obtain the mortgage.

I have no quarrel with the individual or the company who purchased and remodeled the house. They are taking advantage of a hot market for second homes in our beautiful little town and that is just good business. My concern is that, as a community, we are not doing enough to balance this second-home phenomenon with an effort to purchase and preserve some percentage of local, moderately-priced housing for our own workforce and for our seniors.

If we could muster the collective will of our residents, businesses and the wine industry to compile the funds to purchase some of these houses and to deed-restrict them for working families we could begin to gain this important balance. The process is easy, but getting the money to do so is not. We need to include housing in the charitable funding that our valley, which is known for its exceptional generosity, now provides for healthcare, education and other worthy causes. After all, it all begins at home.

Mary Stephenson

St. Helena

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