Mixed-Income Housing And Mixed Social Innovations

Yesterday I had a first world problem; at least that is what one of my students told me. I took my little RV to Oil Can Henry to get the oil changed and have it ready for a camping trip that starts today. I do love summer. As I pulled into the facility to get my oil changed, I saw there was a line. The attendant approached me and said there was a bit of a wait. I then posted on Facebook, I had to wait and had not brought my Ipad that had my books on it to read. I wrote Arrgh. The more I think about my student’s comment the more I realize just how ludicrous my statement was.

This is the way I feel sometimes with comments I read in the WSJ. Two stood out to me this morning because of their Pollyanna perspective. “Mixed-Income Housing Won’t Spur Upward Mobility,” and “The Civil Rights Act At 50,” both have positive and not so positive statements that I would like to address this morning.

Howard Husock explores the positive elements of tenements in urban centers, which really does amaze me. Husock argued that between 1880 and 1930 Brooklyn, New York had built over 520,000 multi-family residential units. This allowed “smaller, denser structures for poorer neighborhoods.” He then discusses the positivity associated with another 299,000 units in Philadelphia and Chicago’s “bungalow Belt.” I have not, nor would want to, live in a tenement such as those mentioned above. I think they are horrible expressions of impoverished isolation, but Husock does make a good point when he argues that the proposed mixed-income, as proposed by New York Mayor Blosio will not produce the results he thinks.

The argument is a good one based upon empirical data. In 1994 the Housing and Urban Development program called “Moving to Opportunity” was started. Many people from poorer neighborhoods were moved to the suburbs with the assumption that there will be better educational opportunities, more economic integration, leading to the alleviation of the previous problems associated with mass public housing.

However, in 2004 and again in 2006 social science researchers observed these mixed-income housing experiments and found there were “no significant overall effects on adult employment, earnings, or public assistance receipt.” Also, researchers found there was no evidence of, “improvements in reading scores, math scores, behavior or social problems, or school engagement, overall for any age group.” Although I am wondering what was the purpose of the research, I do think that Mr. Husock is not telling us the whole story here.

This event does provide some evidence of what I think is important for us to remember.: Social mobility does not occur because the government gives someone vouchers, it occurs because someone works hard for it. “A better zip code is the result, not precursor, to a better life.” A better life comes from hard work and learning, not because the government gives you something. Please don’t assume that I think people are poor because they are lazy, because that is not what I think. Some people are poor because they refuse to work for anything, but many are in that situation because of circumstances outside of their control. They are just trying to do the best they can.

The other editorial I was interested in involved civil rights. We are at the fifty-year mark, and many people are discussing the positive results and warning about losing ground. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. This was a “large and comprehensive bill with eleven sections (or titles) covering racial segregation and discrimination in places of public accommodation, schools, voting and employment.” I remember the racial problems of the 50’s and 60’s, and to do my part in ensuring we won’t forget, I take my students through a little ghost town where there is a sign on the outside of a building that says “no Indians allowed.” Many of our young people today don’t know what it was like in the United States in our early years, and sometimes reading it in history books is not enough.

My fear is that many recent judicial decisions will undo the hard work that advocates for racial equality have fought for. People seem to think that we don’t need laws to ensure fair treatment because we don’t think that way anymore. That is a horrible assumption that will make an ass out of you and me.

Why am I discussing civil rights and housing in one blog? It is because of the lack of leadership associated with this short term thinking in both cases. The worst thing we can do is isolate the poor. We do this so we don’t have to feel guilty for our prosperity, when there are others who do not have the same things we do. We force people who are poor to live on the other side of the tracks so we can keep them away and we don’t have to see and experience their problems. We think we have problems of our own and God knows we are not our brother’s keeper. Although I may disagree with Blosio’s reasons for encouraging mixed-income neighborhoods, I think it is important that we have them. The neighborhood is where we help each other. It is where we get to know our neighbor and if they are having trouble we help them as they would do for me. We have lost this.

When it comes to civil rights, I think we still need an external judge. This is where the government comes in. Everyone screams because someone has an opinion different than our own. A company that is privately owned by a family is told it does not have to provide abortion inducing contraception. Everyone gets upset, but the fact is Hobby Lobby is willing to pay for sixteen other types of contraception methods. They are just against the type that produces an abortion like result. While people are screaming, this company is anti-women’s rights. This company is not trying to take contraception away from its employees, this privately owned company only wants to operate within its values.

We cannot detract from civil rights which means we still need an arbiter to keep these nutty extremists from either taking us back to times before 1964, or creating a liberal government controlled commune where we all have to think the same, and that is not a conservative mind set. We need middle of the road thinkers who are willing to see both sides and work for compromise. Not these people that see evil or communism around every corner.

And that is my thought for the day!





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