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Thread: Living in a city of bigots

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Living in a city of bigots

    The real news is breaking about a controversial affordable housing development in my (un)fair city. The backstory is that the city brought in a "pretty picture" consultant to come up with an idea for a City Center development. The retail is set close to the street - a long bleak wall of brick and spandrel glass, as the doors all face inward to the parking lot. Most of the space that was built is empty. There are some nice condominiums across from the new library. If only they would sell. The library itself is nice, but like the commercial space, it has its back to the main arterial. Beyond that are more condominiums and some upscale rentals. As the recession began and looked to continue, the developer sought to modify the plan to allow him to build affordable rental units - about the only thing that might work with the existing market.City staff and elected officials were inclined to allow the change. Public furor ensued.

    http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/06/27/37691.htm

    Excerpt:

    The city approved a 180-unit project, but "Immediately afterward, and over the next several weeks, city officials received numerous emails, calls, and other communications from residents of New Berlin, the large majority of whom voiced opposition to the ... project. Some of the opposition was based in part on fear that the prospective tenants would be African American or minority. The Mayor, Aldermen, Plan Commissioners, and staff at DCD were aware that community opposition was based in part on race," according to the complaint.

    "The communications they received over several weeks contained express and implied racial terms that were derogatory and based on stereotypes of African American residents. These communications referenced 'niggers,' 'white flight,' 'crime,' 'drugs,' 'gangs,' 'families with 10 or 15 kids,' of needing 'to get a gun,' of 'slums,' of not wanting New Berlin to turn into 'Milwaukee,' of moving to New Berlin 'to get away from the poor people,' of not wanting to provide housing to people 'who work but do not live here.'"

    New Berlin Mayor Jack Chiovatero initially supported the project, but was worn down by being called a "nigger lover," having his property vandalized and a failed recall effort against him. The pressures upon Chiovatero were revealed in an email he sent to a friend, indicating that he condemned racism, but found himself surrounded by it.

    According to the complaint, Chiovatero wrote: "I am a prisoner in my own home. I have spent several hours a day last week listening and replying to concerned citizens. ... I was asked NOT to attend two functions this weekend for fear it would distract and cause havoc by my presence. Our City is filled with prejudice and bigoted people who with very few facts are making this project into something evil and degrading. ... New Berlin is not ready, nor may never be, for a project like this. Unfortunately, I will be doing whatever is in my power to end this project, it will result in lawsuits and making New Berlin a community of bigots."
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  2. #2
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    This is the definition of public good. Do you do what is best for your community or what is wanted by the constituency. I would imagine this is the same dilemma that politicians face when dealing with entitlements, etc.

    It is sad that people still are so bigoted. I would like to hope that someday this kind of idiocy will be gone. Here's to hoping for your fair city Cardinal.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  3. #3
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Wow. Absolutely crazy. I don't think I've ever felt so sorry for a mayor before. I guess you have to give the people what they want, right? This was really a sad story to start the day Best of luck.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Is there a landfill or cement plant that the state of WI could site in that racist hellhole of a town?

  5. #5
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    That's crap and the mayor is wussin' out. Be a man and stand up to the bigotry. Don't cave and be implicit by trying to kill a project.

    Actually, I would bet the more likely market for the affordable units will be fixed income seniors already living in the community that don't want to maintain a single family house anymore.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Sickening.

  7. #7
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Actually, I would bet the more likely market for the affordable units will be fixed income seniors already living in the community that don't want to maintain a single family house anymore.
    That's what I think as well. In fact, a possible solution might be to do an age-restricted affordable housing project.

    Sorry Cardinal, but I hope someone sites a pipe-fitting yard, land fill and dog food factory next door to these racists.

    What a terrible situation. I've seen my fair share of isolated bigotry, but nothing that reaches such a level of openness and seeming acceptance in a community on a consistent basis.

    And the irony of the city name is not lost on me.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    I'm not surprised except by how blatant the racism is because usually it's couched in terms of "welfare recipients" or "criminal elements". Here in Jamestown, aka Redneck Heaven, there aren't all that many African Americans so the Hispanics are the big target for the bigots.

    I think we're still a long, long way, as a nation, from shedding our racist, bigoted past because attitudes change very slowly. Keep in mind that a little more than a half century ago, de jure segregation was the norm in the South and de facto segregation in much of the rest of the country.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    How awful. That's all I can say.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Unfortunately for these bigots, muncipalities just haven't done that well when sued by the US for Fair Housing violations. They'll spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars defending against litigation and then, if precedent suggests anything, they'll lose. All the feds have to show is that there is a pattern of discrimination. Per statute, they do not have to make a case that there is intent to discriminate, just that it's effects are present. Then the muni loses.

    My favorite Fair Housing discussion was with a local politician in a jurisdiction I was working in went something like: He actually said, "Son. We want to preserve the single family, white picket fence character of this town." (he actually slurred his speech to subtly emphasize the "white"). Needless to say he wanted to downzone against multi-unit development. Turned out his beef was Latinos. Several months later, he and his Long Island town became world famous (or, correctly, infamous) after an independent filmaker released a film documenting its bigotry.

  11. #11
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Disgusting, Is this really 2011?

    One problem in New York state, from my limited experience working here, is that it's very difficult to get state funding for scattered-site and mixed market-rate/affordable development. The state will only throw their money behind projects that are exclusively low/mod income. I've talked about a "missing middle" in what's being provided in new housing; it's split between large-lot single-family residential, and state-backed suburban-style low/mod apartments, with little in between. Some private development includes some affordable housing, but it's financially backed by local agencies. Please correct me if I've got some details mixed up; I'm not fully versed in this yet.

    I don't know how true it is, or how it's legally possible, but I've heard people mention how the state "relocated" poor African-American families from New York and Buffalo to small Upstate towns. Outside of the CU and IC student body, Ithaca has a small African-American community, and the vast majority are low-income. I've heard people say they were "relocated" from NYC, but how and why? Despite the legendary tolerance of the area, there are racial tensions, supposedly because of the culture clash between poor urban blacks and the mostly middle- and upper-income academics and hippie crowd.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Gross ignorance and bigotry go hand in hand. While we believe that we have made progress as a nation to eliminate racial prejudice, it has just gone underground. What is now called ":subtle racism" -- such as where we choose to walk down the other side of the street because a black man is walking down our side of the street --, is still very prevalent. The economic crisis has created the need for the ignorant among us to find scapegoats for our problems. People of color, particularly Hispanics and inner city blacks, have become those scapegoats today just as the Jews were the Nazi's solution to Germany's problems during the Great Depression.

    While many have suggested herein that we should fight back, how do you realistically fight back against gross ignorance and bigotry. Unfortunately, it is inherently immune to listening and changing.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    I don't know how true it is, or how it's legally possible, but I've heard people mention how the state "relocated" poor African-American families from New York and Buffalo to small Upstate towns. Outside of the CU and IC student body, Ithaca has a small African-American community, and the vast majority are low-income. I've heard people say they were "relocated" from NYC, but how and why? Despite the legendary tolerance of the area, there are racial tensions, supposedly because of the culture clash between poor urban blacks and the mostly middle- and upper-income academics and hippie crowd.
    Dan, you may be thinking of a little know effect of post-war urban renewal, at least in Buffalo. Back in the early/mid-1950s Buffalo, a mixed race neighborhood (primarily Italians/Jews/African Americans) just east of downtown known as the Ellicott District was bulldozed for urban renewal. The small single and two family homes were replaced with massive apartment blocks for public housing.

    It was, at the time, the heart of the black community in Buffalo. This being the pre-Civil Rights era, when the city took their homes, middle and working class African American homeowners and small businessmen had nowhere to go except to move out of the city or into the new housing projects because of rampant housing discrimination. The white residents had options but the blacks didn't.

    My aunt and uncle, who had lived in the Ellicott District since the 1920s and who rented their upstairs apartment to a black couple (found that on the 1930 US Census -- it was something still not acceptable in many parts of Buffalo even today) moved to suburban Amherst. Their African American neighbors mostly moved out of the area, and the black middle class essentially disappeared from Buffalo until the 1970s. It is, still today, considerably smaller, percentage-wise, than in cities like Albany.

    IMO, this was a deliberate policy, at least on the part of the Buffalo "city fathers". This may have also happened in NYC.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    95 percent white
    Well, there's your problem.

    In my opinion, the issue concerns 1) perceptions of African Americans and 2) Perceptions of public housing.

    Not all African Americans wear doo-rags, have gold teeth, wear saggy pants, and have guns strapped to their hips. We all know this, but I'll bet if you took a group of residents from this place and asked then to describe an African American, that's exactly what you'd get.

    So why do we have this image discrepancy? Well I think a lot of it has to do with failed or marginally successful public housing in the US. Good public housing should not keep poor people poor, and that's exactly what's happening in a lot of places. As politically impossible as it might be, mixed income would be ideal for something like this.

    but on the other hand, it's a chicken and egg scenario. The perception of the people won't improve until the housing improves, and the housing won't improve until the perception of the people living in it improves.
    "It's human nature, you can't do anything about that" - Alan Greenspan

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  15. #15
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Ostensibly, this is in part why zoning and other laws governing land use exist - to create a level playing field for all citizens to access and use land wihle protecting the health, safety and welfare of the community. Of course, zoning has historically been used as a tool for intitutional racism through redlining, establishing large minimum lot sizes and square footage requirements to keep out the poor folks, but over time, the law does seem to sort out what is legal and what is not. Equal protection and all of that.

    Someone - the mayor, I would think - needs to tell the complaining townspeople that, in this country, people are entitled to seek housing anywhere they can afford. Their town doesn't get to be "off limits" to "those people" (whoever the favored target is that day) just because people want it that way. Sometimes what the people want and what is best for society at large are not the same thing and that is why we have laws.

    People often seem to have the view that their property should be protected from any externalities negatively impacting their values at all costs. This is the case with incompatible uses, sure, but that's about it - property investment is a risk, just like the stock market. It sounds to me like these residents are primarily motivated by what they perceive as a negative impact on their property values which they in turn see through racist glasses. Its really just sad.

    Beyond all of that, the assumption that affordable housing brings in "bad elements" has been refuted in endless cases and is often motivated by uninformed perceptions. As someone who now works in affordable housing, I encounter this a lot.

    In the bigger picture, I feel that in the absence of clear information, people usually jump to the worst conclusions. In this case, I suspect that people are responding to the unkown element of who would be living in these affordable units by jssuming their worst fears. That these fears revolve around having to share space with African-Americans is just pathetic and terribly disappointing.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    I've honestly not heard much concern about anti-African American bigotry in housing lately, at least in the places where I work. Of course, this may be because there's little African American population growth in those places. There is a CLEAR rising tide of anti-Latino bigotry, sometimes completely raw and unconcealed. I guess the most acute targets of hatred reflect population growth more than anything else. In some places, it seems that white homeowners feel threatened whenever they see any one non-white group significantly increasing its representation in their neighborhoods, and now that increase tends to be Latino, nationally speaking.

  17. #17
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    And, really, the major issue here of whether or not a particular development or dwelling unit is "affordable" is not a land use issue. Plain and simple.
    Last edited by mendelman; 14 Jul 2011 at 10:39 AM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    It's important to recognize the complexity of these issues. The racist backlash is, of course, inexcusable, but there may be legitimate concerns about concentrating poverty. Government-subsidized housing has a bad reputation that, in several cases, is justified. What assurances do the residents have that the same poor decisions and economic injustices that have been committed in the past won't be repeated?

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    It's important to recognize the complexity of these issues.
    That's nonsense. Are you serious? Complexity? Obeying the law isn't a complex issue. It's the law. If you break the law, you will find yourself under a court-supervised consent order. That usually clarifies any perceived "complexity" on the part of the local old boys. Talk to Fairlawn NJ or Mt Kisco NY.. or, for that matter, all of Westchester County NY. Their arguments that allowing developers to come in with any multi-unit development would lead to ghettos amidst their trimmed hedges simply resulted in a forfeiture of urban planning decisionmaking authority to a Federal court. And deservedly so.

    On concentrating poverty, sure, fine, whatever, point taken. but for every case where concentrating poverty is a real issue (as opposed to a product of the imagination of bigots), there's probably 10 where Fair Housing violations are being created to preserve 95% or 99%+ monochromatic communities in the burbs. That Long Islander I mentioned wasn't concerned about a ghetto. He was concerned that his lily-white town would have more than a handful of Latinos if we let a single apartment building get developed there. Minorities aren't necessarily poor and assuming that they are is, by itself, bigotry. And living in an apartment building isn't de facto evidence of poverty either.

    I have a basic problem with anyone trying to explain bigotry with "this issue is complex." Utter BS. If you're uncomfortable living in the same town as people with different skin pigmentation than youself and you choose to express that discomfort through advocacy for restrictive zoning and land-use decisionmaking, you're a bigot and you're advocating for potential violation of the law. Nothing complex there.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 13 Jul 2011 at 4:37 PM.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    And, really, the major issue here is whether or not a particular development or dwelling unit is "affordable" is not a land use issue. Plain and simple.
    Actually, it is, because these bigots believe that ANY zoning for higher than SFD densities encourages the presence of brown people. Half the time, they take it even further than that, and make planning decisinos against transit, on the assumption that having transit wil bring more brown people to town. Whether there are affordable housing credits allocated to the housing or whether there is a transit subsidiy is beside the point for them.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    Gosh, talk about much ado about nothing.

    All they had to do was put on some restrictive covenants on the property prohibiting Blacks, Jews, Irish, Catholics, Hispanics, Canadians, the French, especially French Canadians, Brown-eyed People, People with hair lips, People with eyes set too close together and speaking of eyes those durned slanty-eyed Yellow Vermin (I like to keep that one kind of general to work in all of the far- and near-east "people") and Wal-Mart shoppers.

    In fact, they should also attach a colour chart with a specified shade of brown and if your skin tone is equal to or greater than that shade yer out.

    Now, some may argue that the entire cast of Jersey Shore after a summer vacation may be disqualified from the area but would that really be a bad thing? I don't think so.

    Anyway, there you go, problem solved. I mean it's really a matter of keeping the purity of our country umm, pure (mostly) and lemon-scented.
    At times like this, you have to ask yourself, "WWJDD?"
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  22. #22
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    Actually, it is, because these bigots believe that ANY zoning for higher than SFD densities encourages the presence of brown people. Half the time, they take it even further than that, and make planning decisinos against transit, on the assumption that having transit wil bring more brown people to town. Whether there are affordable housing credits allocated to the housing or whether there is a transit subsidiy is beside the point for them.
    Indeed, it gets politicized, but the impact on the community of "affor..er...workforce" housing is the same as market rate.

    Dur....stupid..

    Also...[boo]Section 8[/boo]
    Last edited by mendelman; 14 Jul 2011 at 10:40 AM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    It sounds like you need a journalist to request a copy of each and every one of those emails. One who is not above publishing the complainants names along with their racial slurs. Shame the open bigotry right out of them.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    It's important to recognize the complexity of these issues. The racist backlash is, of course, inexcusable, but there may be legitimate concerns about concentrating poverty. Government-subsidized housing has a bad reputation that, in several cases, is justified. What assurances do the residents have that the same poor decisions and economic injustices that have been committed in the past won't be repeated?
    Uh...yeah. Well, as Cismontane notes, for the "several" bad cases, there are countless other success stories. Not only in having low incidences of crime, but just damn good design. Check out the Affordable Housing Design Advisor for some really fantastic examples (they even have abbreviated proformas showing how projects were financed and who designed and built them). Oh, and a special section on "green" affordable housing design examples. Really inspiring stuff.

    Affordable housing development has evolved a LOT since the era of 1970s style high rise projects which was, in many ways, a constructed ghetto. I have a feeling this is what the protesting residents are imagining.

    As the OP mentions, this is not a government project, but a private developer looking for a market in a tight economy and going after low income housing tax credits by ensuring that a certain percentage of units are "affordable." This means it is scaled for folks who earn 60 percent of Area Median Income or lower.

    The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), whic I am sure is what the developer is considering, is a little different than a HUD voucher (where either the household is subsidized, or the housing project is subsidized) in that the developer, in exchange for offering at least 40 percent of the units to qualified low income buyers/renters, receives tax credits. They sell these credits to raise capital, thus lowering the overall cost of the project and allowing them to offer the units for less. In HUD subsidized housing, the construction and original loan costs are the same as market rate construction and the government covers the difference between the going rate and what the low income households can afford. If the government stops supporting them, the rent has to go up because the costs to the developer/owner have remained the same. Not so for the LIHTC funded projects.

    There, affordable housing in a nutshell.

    I work for a non-profit affordable housing developer that has constructed approximately 100 homes and another 100 or so affordable apartments. 43 of these apartments are for senior housing. We have used LIHTC as well as other forms of subsidy in a unique model that offers perpetually affordable housing. Essentially, we structure it such that the subsidy runs with the structure and not the household, so the affordability gets passeed on to the next buyer.

    I can tell you uinequivocably that "concentrating" this "poverty" does not make it a ghetto. We regularly turn away people with higher incomes who want to live here but who make too much money. Its a highly desirable area with great amenities, energy efficient construction and very thoughtful design elements. And a very engaged community.

    The other important consideration for me is that there is a growing affordability gap for housing in this country and as a consequence (not helped in the least by the recession) it is harder and harder for people who, just a generation ago could afford a home, to do so today. In our area, home prices have risen over 50 percent since 2000 while median incomes have risen only 20 percent. This does not even account for inflation (meaning its not only housing that costs more than in 2000). And our housing market has been relatively stable through the recession and considered NOT to be over-inflated.

    Just because people are poor does not mean they are irresponsible or potential criminals. And my point above is that "affordable" residents are not necessarily low-life freeloaders just looking to cause trouble. Where I work, they are working people trying to catch a break. Sure, they may not have as much disposable income to make the improvements to their homes that better off residents have, but dignity and responsible behavior are not confined to the well-healed. I really don't see what the problem is beyond the fact that these complaining folks don't seem to have really thought through their comments nor had any direct experience with "affordable" housing.

    As one poster noted, "affordable" could consist entirely of senior housing for folks on fixed incomes. Unless we're afraid of concentrating the elderly...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Recent article had a aerial of the site in question: New Berlin residents divided on racism's role in city's housing decision

    279 comments.

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