Sunday, November 29, 2009

Westchester and the latest integration crusade

"It's time to remove zip codes as a factor in the quality of life in America." And with that snide remark, Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), made clear the department's intention to force the construction of 750 low-income housing units in affluent, stable communities of Westchester County in New York State.

In spite of the fact that Westchester has long had its share of affluent black and Hispanic families, that's not quite the same as having a representation of "poorer" residents (as HUD puts it), apparently to guarantee racial as well as economic "diversity." After all, what's a community without a contingent of Section 8 tenants? It's a "racist" community, if we follow the logic of Mr. Sims and the Obama administration, that is vigorously pursuing this latest integration crusade.

In "Revolt in Westchester"(City Journal, 11/4/09), Walter Olson describes this recent move to compel towns to accept unwanted housing, and sees the recent election of Rob Astorino over long-time County Executive Andy Spano as the signs of a revolt by Westchester residents, who are determined to find a way out of a settlement that many believe was coerced via strong-armed government tactics.

Talk to my neighbors here in the Norwood section of the Bronx about quality of tenants. Now, you might think that the Bronx is the last place where anyone would care about such things as residents' conduct, but you would be mistaken. In spite of its reputation for crime and disorder, there have always been, in the borough, low-to-no-crime havens of steadfast, conscientious home-owners and apartment dwellers. Most of my neighbors are working class types, harboring what one might call middle class aspirations and values.

During the past decade, the neighborhood's landlords have been hard pressed to find more of such tenants to fill vacancies in their apartment buildings. In my building, for example, apartments have sat empty for months. Long-time residents of other buildings have reported the same situation, i.e., empty apartments.

But no longer. Against their better judgment, many landlords are succumbing to the government's generous rental payments for Section 8 tenants, or so-called homeless families. ("Families" in a very loose sense of the word, usually single women with children and a host of interchangeable boyfriends.) I need not detail the alterations to the neighborhood's environment, as residents attempt to adjust to the behavior patterns of these new tenants with "issues." You can guess the nature of the "issues" they bring with them. Suffice it to say, the recent upswing in, shall we call it, social discord, is taking its toll on what is normally a harmonious and tolerant community, where residents make a virtue of being seen and heard only when appropriate.

I am told that for taking in a Section 8 tenant, landlords can receive at much as $200 higher for monthly rents from the government than they might get from regular, working tenants. One neighbor, writing to our local weekly newspaper, expresses the fear that our community might soon turn into a "subsidized, public assistance oasis."

There is no reason not to believe that this could be the fate of Westchester. Although the county certainly starts from a much higher economic base than our modest area in the Bronx, as residents of homes and co-ops flee the coming social turmoil, the slide could be swift. HUD has announced its plans to bring its low-income housing program into other affluent neighborhoods around the country. Could there be a plot afoot to eliminate all middle and upper class venues in an attempt to make every nook and cranny "look like America?"

To fabricate neighborhoods that are undifferentiated by social and economic factors (which zip codes symbolize), Walter Olson claims "would require extreme, indeed utopian, ventures in social engineering." As they have done in other areas, the government's social engineers and their lawyers can work to legally abridge a locality's home rule and change zoning laws.

In Westchester, if towns would try to protect themselves, by offering these new low-income homes and units to their own local townspeople, such as teachers, policemen and elderly residents, the HUD settlement would prevent such a move. The settlement requires the county to "market the homes aggressively," not to Westchester residents, but specifically to "black and Hispanic residents of the New York City area." It's called Government Gotcha!

Olson surmises that Westchester residents voted for Astorino (who, throughout the campaign was never expected to beat the incumbent Spano), as a way of expressing their concerns over this housing issue. Astorino had called for a "slowdown," so that the county could examine further options in relation to the settlement.

Spano might have overplayed his hand by insinuating that critics of the housing plan were "racists." Olson says that Westchester residents, who are liberals from way back and voted for Obama by a comfortable margin, may very well have been offended by Spano's aspersion. "Westchesterites don't like being talked to that way."

Over the last decade, about 1,700 units of "affordable housing" has been built throughout Westchester county. But now, in what a local newspaper calls "a historic shift of philosophy," the federal government demands that the county develop housing in communities "with little or no minority population." It turns out that building for the poor was not good enough. Building now has to be for the race specific poor. It goes without saying that poor whites need not apply.

To quote my neighbor again, "Bad tenants make bad neighborhoods." Here's wishing better luck to Westchester than our little vicinity is presently experiencing.


Constructive Feedback said...

A community is a collection of agreed upon policies and sentiments put forth by the prevailing set of its people.

There are some people who are unwilling to accept the fact that certain bundles of community based management principles produce better outcomes than others. Instead they are more inclined to look at the "exclusionary consequences" that are produced among those people who are not inside of the domain.

Rarely do we discuss in this nation the question of if these others have the equal capacity to implement this same suite of strictures within their own community and thus produce more favorable outcomes. Instead it is more favorable for those who consider themselves enlightened to work to grind down what they consider "discrimination".

In their quest for nominal "equality" they don't mind if everyone is equal all be it at a degraded point.

Today in the county that I live in within Metro Atlanta - yesterday's "discriminatory" policy of having minimum lot sizes in preference for single family homes (thus keeping apartments out of the county) is now seen as an attractive environment. Thus - after the "crash and burn" of more progressive counties to the north of us - some of the same people who years ago called us "exclusionary" are now moving into this "bigoted" county in order to consume the higher quality of life and quality schools.

Elizabeth Wright said...

In their quest for nominal "equality" they don't mind if everyone is equal all be it at a degraded point.

Yes, in fact I think this is the overt quest of many "progressives." They would lower the already depressed economic standards of struggling families even here in the Bronx to achieve their warped goal of "equality." But their greatest resentment is directed to those who have navigated their way to affluence, seeing them only as the "privileged."

Adrianna said...

Sorry if it didn't go through the first time.

I myself have lived most of my life in an affluent, well-educated, middle-class area. We had poor people and people on welfare, but not only were they few and far between, they had middle-class values. Thus, we had welfare and poverty, but not a welfare/poverty culture. And then, due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to move to an area in which there was a thriving welfare/poverty culture. Middle-class people and values were alien and unwelcome. Anyone who had the nerve to suggest that some people are smarter, harder-working, etc. than others or who openly aspired to anything beyond this lifestyle was regarded as elitist and treated like a pariah. Maybe I should have lived there longer. Obviously, I didn't give the rich diversity enough time to rub off on me.

I can't tell you how sick I am of pretending that this culture does not exist and that it's "wrong" to judge these people. I beg to differ. There is nothing wrong with judging people that you know and on the basis of their values and behaviors.

I knew a woman who was a single welfare mother of five children. I did not judge her for that. After all, she might have been a stay-at-home mother whose husband might have died in a car crash. (That was not the case, by the way.) I did, however, judge her after I KNEW that she chose to let her children's well-being fall by the wayside and live in an area infested with drug dealers and sex offenders because she wanted to keep her boyfriend and support his crack habit. In the book of progressivism, this is a good woman who made some bad choices. In my book, this is a bad mother, period, end of story.

The point is that communities not only have the right to associate with whomever they choose in their free time, but that no one is judging these unwelcome residents for being poor or on welfare. They themselves may have been poor or on welfare, and they probably know many people that have fallen on hard times and joined those ranks. No, they are judging them based on their values and behavior, and whether progressives like it or not, troublesome values and behaviors abound in areas where poverty and welfare dependence are the norm. Middle-class people don't approve of those values and behaviors and don't associate with those people.

Besides, don't culturally impoverished people have the right to freedom of association too? Why would they want to live in a middle-class communiy and be surrounded by people who are being richly rewarded for having made good choices and for being good people? We wouldn't want them to feel bad about themselves, would be?

For the record, most people in this area who are members of the poverty culture are white.

Anonymous said...

The term of mixed-income housing has been floated around in the city where I reside. A few years a public housing project was demolished. The area had started being known as "Cambodia". Residents who had done the right thing, abided by the rules were supposed to get first rights of return. It did not turn out that way. The structures which replaced the housing project are out of sight. Naturally the price to live there is higher, $160,000. So much for mixed-income residences.