Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Still Chewing

I mentioned during the last post that there was a reason I was thinking about the economy -- about how what people are willing to do for $5 tells a kind of story about their lives.

This isn't so much about 5 simple dollars. But it is about financial threshholds, and it's definitely about important stories.

The agency I work for is looking to construct a mixed-use building on a lot that's been vacant for 20+ years. I know the lot well. It's just a few blocks from us, on a nearly evacuated commercial corridor desperately in need of revitalization. The building is a gorgeous design in keeping with the aesthetic of the neighborhood. There's commercial space on the first floor and 36 units of residential on the upper three floors. More importantly, each and every unit will be affordable to families making just 50% of the area median income (roughly $20,000 - $44,000 a year).

I was at a meeting last Saturday where supporters testified in favor of this project. This woman talked about growing up in affordable housing, and how the stability it offered enabled her to go to college, where she just graduated with a political science degree. She hopes to start graduate school in the fall.

This man lives close to the lot and is eager for new neighbors. He, too, grew up in affordable housing and now has a home of his own where he's raising his family. He called himself a member of the 'silent majority' -- people who support the concept of housing for all, but may be too timid to stand up and be counted.

One by one, people rallied for the project. They told stories about their lives as single parents, or people who live with their children or elderly parents in tiny, one-bedroom Section 8 housing, because it's all they can afford. They talked about needing a stable place to call home, one with sufficient space for their families and decent transportation, grocery stores, and neighbors nearby.

But that didn't keep the detractors away. Most of them live more than a mile away: one in a mansion on our neighborhood's historic boulevard, another in a mansion near our local historic park. Still others are real estate or development professionals who consider affordable housing the wrong direction for the neighborhood. They're distributing handbills, raising the spectre of public funding and (gasp) Socialism, and they seem prepared to fight to the death.

And to see these two groups in a room together -- the working poor and the upper crust -- underlines how profoundly difficult it's going to be to strike an understanding around these issues.

I guess if I'm writing about this I should have some kind of point. But honestly, the whole thing leaves me a little speechless and paralyzed.

Part of me wants to laugh off the naysayers -- surely people will see them for what they are and shoot down their not-in-my-backyard objections -- but part of me realizes it's groups like this, empowered by both privilege and invective, who often have the last laugh.


tracy said...

Damn, you'd think rich people and real estate developers would realize that this is an economic period in which to a)keep their mouths shut, after what types-like-them have done to the economy; and b)find one grain of compassion in their hard little, gilded hearts.

leslie said...

oh lord, that's depressing. It's nice to think that good will prevail, but the fight is damn exhausting.