The downside to ‘moving on up’

It’s been about 8 months since we’ve moved into our new home and by most measures it’s been great. Especially, as we venture into warmer weather, it’s accurate to say that being in our new home has been a game changer. There is plenty of room for all of us to spread out if needed and lots of nooks where we can all be together without feeling like crabs in a barrel.

The natural light we get in our new home keeps us energized throughout the day which all has a direct impact on our ability be creative, present and on some days; calm. Compared to our old home and neighborhood,this was a huge step up.

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our old place because we loved it there too but let’s just say our current home and neighborhood ‘hits different‘. Being able to truly enjoy and afford it is a direct result of the trade-offs we’ve made over the seven years.

Having gone through the home-buying process fairly recently, we now have a greater understanding of why it’s so hard for people to consider trading down, even when they’re in a tight spot. After moving on up, it’s really hard to wrap your head around downsizing or moving into something less plush.

But it aint all good in our new ‘hood.

As the new house smell fades away, the home settles and as cracks begin to appear, we’ve had our share of moments that made us question our decision. After all, we’d be significantly farther ahead on our journey to FI if we’d continued to live small.

The physical condition of the property isn’t the only challenge though. We’ve had a few instances in our new community that made us pause. Let’s just say that living in a predominantly white, upscale neighborhood as a young black family has it’s days.

Let’s start with the upkeep. In our old home, it would take us a solid hour to clean all 1,400 sq. feet top to bottom. In our new home, it takes twice as long and now that our son is older, we find Cheerios, socks, toy cars and crap all over the place. As expected our electric bill is about 30% higher though we could admittedly do a better job with conserving energy if we really tried. But these are the least of our concerns.

More importantly, in our old neighborhood, we were largely surrounded by working class people. Sure, we’re generalizing here based on the home values, cars driven, area amenities and our daily interactions with neighbors but that is likely the best descriptor for people that lived there. Today, in our new neighborhood, we’re mostly surrounded by upper middle class and upper-class people.

Baby r&R learning to ride his bike.

So instead of seeing used Hondas, Mazdas and Kias we’re now surrounded by shiny new BMWs and Range Rovers. That’s not a problem in and of itself but it is interesting to get the looks from our neighbors or other parents at the daycare as I pull up in my dingy a$$ ’06 Honda Accord. The silent judgment is deafening.

It doesn’t help that I’m usually wearing ‘home clothes’ while most of the other working parents are dressed up like they’re presenting to the CEO or in the final round of interviewing. I don’t judge because I truly remember the days when I also subscribed to the old adage of “dressing for the role you want” and was willing to shell out the extra money every single month to do it. If only it were just that simple.

But silent judgement based on my car and clothes don’t bother me; casting suspicion on my intent would. A few weeks ago, one of the homeowners in our neighborhood posted this note in the community facebook page.

When we saw it, we both sighed and shook our heads because we knew exactly what they were suggesting. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, we responded by reminding our leery neighbor that Amazon now allows delivery from smaller Mom and Pop operations who aren’t always in a branded Amazon van.

Maybe they were looking for the right house to deliver a package? They acknowledged our little reminder but that didn’t stop the President of the HOA from encouraging her to “call 911 when in doubt“.

This wasn’t the first time some of our neighbors have typecast people out of caution but this particular time bothered us a little bit. The use of words and phrases like “up to no good“, “culprit” and “a bad guy” are often used to describe people who don’t meet our neighbors standards.

On one end, it’s great to know that we live in a community of people who are concerned with maintaining safety and protecting their investment. On the other, it seems their sense of protection manifests itself as a fear of outsiders.

A white guy with his hood up? Maybe he’s a skateboarder. Anyone else with their hood up? Let’s alert the community and call 911 to be certain.

We rarely experienced this in our old neighborhood and we believe it’s because working class people spend more time engaging with a wider range of people along the socio-economic spectrum. The only times we got notified there was when something actually happened and there was a real reason for people to be on guard. But in our new neighborhood, it seems every little thing is a reason to hold another meeting, send out an email blast or post something in the facebook group.

It’s also not lost on me just how much excess there is in our new neighborhood versus our old one. A few years ago, when our old hybrid Whole Foods shut down, we were heartbroken. We had to switch stores and ended up getting all of our groceries from an old Publix which was exactly a mile away and directly across the street from an old Kroger. Not our preference, but not a big deal.

In our new neighborhood, we have 3 nice Publix supermarkets, 3 Kroger’s, a Sprouts Farmers Market, a massive international farmers market and a city-organized Saturday morning farmers market all within a 3 mile radius. That doesn’t include the smaller grocery stores and shops that cater to niche health needs and ethnic groups.

According to Money Magazine, we live in one of the top 50 places to live in 2018 and if you’ve ever spent a day here you can easily see why. We have several parks for kids of all ages, a great school system, residents with a relatively high income, low crime rate and the city is filled with brand new residential and commercial development. But as a resident, it’s clear there’s more to this story.

Like many other parts of the metro ATL, you can see a hard line drawn in the sand where the money stopped flowing. There’s no greater example of this than the new Mercedes Benz stadium. If you look up, you see a shiny new stadium for the Falcons and Atlanta United to play in. But if you look down and across the street, you see people living in old dilapidated homes. But poverty isn’t restricted to the ‘inner city’.

While the stadium is an extreme example, in many other parts of the city, we see examples of suburban poverty. In fact, in some of the older parts of our own suburb, we see it. As our wealth grows and we get closer to achieving our dreams it’s really sad to know that so many people are likely being left behind.

For black people, the road to building wealth is a lonely one and it's filled with a lingering sense of social and cultural abandonment. It's like being an expat in your country. Click To Tweet

Look, I don’t have the answers. We’re not moving out of our new home, we really like our new neighborhood and our new neighbors. But it is tough knowing that if I invite a certain group of friends over, there’s a chance they could be ‘marked‘ by my neighbors unless I send a note in advance alerting people that we’re having company. It sucks knowing that I get to choose from 7 different grocery stores while 36% of the Atlanta area is considered a food desert.

Trust me, we know the guilt we feel is a first world problem. We don’t expect, nor do we want anyone to feel sorry for the challenges we face along the journey of upward mobility. But we are mindful of our privilege and use that mindfulness to guide us through the emotional roller coaster that is being black and relatively rich. If we’re feeling up to it, we also use that privilege and access to educate our white brothers and sisters.

As we climb, we will lift. As we continue to fly forward, we will look back so we never forget where we came from. Or as the people of the Akan tribe of Ghana say…Sankofa.

Mr. r&R


  1. well stated…and true, living in east point we knew we were in food desert and supposedly the most crime laden area of town. working class neighborhood, great people. we left to move to L.A., and the housing prices jumped , and most of our friends who lived and rented around the corner had to move.

  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about how community affects our life experience. Outside of our family, who helps and who hinders us? Thank you for keeping my wheels turning on this one; excellent post.

  3. Great Article! If you decide to stick around Atlanta, the next house you buy should be in an affluent Diverse neighborhood.

  4. I’ve been trying to figure out my own feelings about this type of interaction. We had a neighbor write a similar email about a brown child asking for help, and this very concept of transitioning communities (whether it ever really happens) as we grow (both as people and in terms of our wealth). Great perspective!

  5. This happens to white people in these neighborhoods too, it happened to me. When we lived in one of the smallest houses in Bellevue, Washington I had people walk in my door, look around, and tell me I needed a bigger house. My kids were stared at for not having nice clothes. We had almost no furniture. The reality was we were saving like crazy people and retired the first time in our early 30’s and that house was paid off.

    My kids are grown now and if I had to do it over I would raise them in a working class neighborhood. The kids are saner and more balanced. There is less judgement from other parents. Mine are all grown so it is too late, but underneath all that polish there are problems. Also I found out over time that most people could not afford to live there and were in a financial house of cards.

    We are in an upscale neighborhood in another state right now, but most of my neighbors grew up poor and the area is very chill. It is a low status nice neighborhood. If we had stayed in LA we would have bought in Ladera Heights. Ladera Hieghts is the black Brentwood. Because it is by Inglewood it is low status. There is private security and zero crime. The schools are bad, but people send their kids to private schools. If you can find low status high end it is a better blend.

    I grew up poor and frequently have trouble relating to people who have always been privileged. My husband grew up in a trailer. He just happened to be a programming genius who worked very hard so we are quite comfortable.

    • You blatantly dismiss race as a factor when the essay gives an example where race is the only factor (white guy in a hoodie is given the benefit of the doubt). Obviously, class and race are both issues mentioned here, so it’s pretty messed up to dismiss race just because you don’t experience racial bias.

  6. Yep. Moving on up usually means a bigger home, better neighborhood and fancier cars in the driveway. I actually wrote blog posts with this topic in mind. They were called:

    1) Beamers, Benz and Bentleys or a GMC Truck?
    2) Range Rovers and Foreclosures

    I paid off my car and used that money to invest. I turned my over $400 car payment into $100k in Mr. Market. Forget cars. Forget the product. Buy the stock.

    Best Wishes,

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