Live and Let Live: Discord in Hartford’s West End

I have a strange aversion to nice neighborhoods. The thing about living among affluent people — or even the solidly middle class — is that they seem to think what you do with your property is their business, even when it doesn’t affect them. The first time I heard about Home Owners Associations that dictated what kinds of fences you can put up, whether you can put up a fence at all, or where you can put a vegetable garden, I nearly lost my mind. I will plant my vegetable garden in the sun…and if that means in the front yard, OH WELL! When I commit to spending the next 30 years of my life paying off a piece of property, you better believe I’ll do whatever the hell I want with it.

So you can only imagine my reaction to hearing about this story in the West End of Hartford, where the city (and some neighbors) are trying to put an end to a communal living situation happening on Scarborough Street. Eleven people, mostly couples–and a few kids–occupy a mansion bought by two of the occupants. As far as I can tell they haven’t done anything to bother their neighbors other than just living there.

There have been no ritual sacrifices on the lawn. They are not raising goats to make cheese to fuel what I can only assume are awesome nightly dinner parties. I haven’t heard any reports of weird Pagan celebrations on the solstice. The yard seems clean. There are, perhaps, more cars than normal in the driveway, but I’d bet there are plenty of people living on that street with more cars than are absolutely necessary sitting in their garages.

Let’s be clear, the city is not saying that there are too many people in the home. They aren’t breaking any fire codes or anything. The problem is simply that they aren’t a “family.” There are only two families I don’t want living next to me.

The one lead by this guy…

And this environmental abomination…

And let’s stop to consider the Duggars for just a moment. The city of Hartford says it’s OK for a couple of randy Baptists and their 19 children to move into that house on Scarborough, but it is not OK for a few friends who like the idea of living together to shack up. What if a bunch of college kids wanted to rent that house together? What if a young professional bought it and rented out the spare rooms to friends to help pay the mortgage? What if a single mother and her three kids moved in with some friends after getting evicted from their apartment? Would the city send any of these people cease and desist orders?

Sure, 11 people living in one house–who aren’t all related to each other–is unusual. Living with 10 other people is my personal hell. Just spending a weekend in a house with that many people would turn me into Olive Kitteridge. I would fake my own death to get out of a situation like that, but if it makes these people happy more power to them.

This house was vacant for years before this unconventional family bought it. Clearly people weren’t clamoring to buy a creaky old mansion on a busy street in New England’s Rising Star. Hartford, if you want more young, creative people to move in and start paying taxes, you just might have to be willing to look the other way when they want to set up some kind of hippie commune in one of your big old, beautiful houses.

I’m gonna go out and hug my neighbors for not complaining about my compost piles, the dog waste bucket I buried in the backyard, or the catio I built to contain my feline friends. And I’ll continue not complaining about the broken down Camaro in their driveway, the canoe on the front lawn, or the rooster I hear but never see.