Couple get extra time to stay in the home they love

The first thing he did, pro bono, was help Mr. and Mrs. Harris win a little time. Under a court agreement, they were given the past week to make basic repairs in the Sheffield house and to stay while they did it. If they fixed enough things, they could stay longer with the idea they would sell within six months. The agreement is open to modification.

"R.J. takes an enormous amount of pride in owning these two properties," Lawrence says. "They're not the best buildings on the block. But he paid them off and paid the taxes for 40 years. It's an accomplishment. He's a survivor. He should have the opportunity to live there until he is in a position to sell it."

While the repairs are made, only two adult visitors are allowed in the home at a time, a restriction that Judy Frydland, a city attorney, says was based on hazards in the house, especially the sagging kitchen floor.

"We've tried to be fair with the Harrises," said Frydland. "I know they've been in that house a long time and it means a lot to them."

On Tuesday, the building inspectors will report in court on the repairs so far. The judge will hear the city's opinion, and if he thinks the repairs are going well, Mr. and Mrs. Harris can continue to live in the home as they consider their next step.

"The city has loosened the reins since they ordered him out," Lawrence says. "But R.J.'s got to continue to show progress."

On Friday, I asked several of the Harrises if they'd learned anything from the past few weeks. They said yes.

They see more clearly how they appear to newcomers and have thought about how they might adjust. They've acknowledged that owning a house involves more than keeping your taxes paid, even if paying the taxes is why you can't afford to fix your house.

And despite everything, even knowing some neighbors want them gone, they still love their neighborhood.

"I really don't know nowhere else I could fit in," Mr. Harris said. Then he waved a hand up Sheffield. "Though if I could find me something pretty nice up that way, I would be all right."

At least he has gained a little time to figure that out from the tattered comfort of home.