Fighting the NIMBYs on Affordable Housing

New Orleans City Council Meeting 05.23.2019 on housing development in the Bywater neighborhood.

New Orleans     Sadly, it’s not just an aberration in my own neighborhood where bizarrely the “not in my back yard” crowd fought fiercely to block the return of affordable housing to a long established Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) site.  It seems to be almost everywhere in big American cities with increasingly entitled, gentrifying faux-liberal populations.

In a small victory, the New Orleans City Council voted 6-0 with the uptown councilperson taking a powder, on a so-called “compromise” allowing the project to move forward with a slightly smaller footprint but at least holding on to the more than 80 affordable units that included slightly more than 50 market rate apartments.   The district councilwoman had been touting embarrassing and ridiculous proposals to try to pander to the NIMBY crowd that included some of the neighborhood, real-estate dominated civic associations.  One of the more bizarre had been an argument that she was for the number of affordable units, but wanted them spread all over town.  You can hear the dog whistle from here, can’t you?

Let’s be clear.  Affordable housing is an issue in New Orleans.  Repopulating African-American families in neighborhoods is also an issue for me and for people who care about the city post-Katrina, as well as diversity of race and income in neighborhoods like Bywater where I live that were solid multi-racial working class and lower income areas when we moved here decades ago.  To save face, when I can only believe that she couldn’t get any votes, our councilwoman pasted together a fig leaf compromise that allowed some of the NIMBYs say in the design of the project to try to salvage their claims about “neighborhood character” and “green space” as something other than hard core class and race bias.  Hopefully, this committee will not kowtow to this small entitled group.  The highlight for me was reading that another councilman following the vote, essentially chided the projects opponents saying that they needed to really look deeply into their real motivations. Amen!

More depressing was reading that the pretend-progressive California legislature scuttled a bill that would have repealed restrictive zoning for single-family housing near transit stops in order to allow lower income families more access to jobs and services.  The Times columnist reporting on this normally writes about tech issues, but the headline was “Nimby Liberals Make Cities Unlivable,” and he quoted George W. Bush’s comments about “catastrophic success” from the Iraq war.  What a double-shot to the gut!

City after city in the US, Canada, the European Union, Australia, and, OK, all around the world are fencing out people to create enclaves for the rich and white and forgetting the rest of what makes cities work.  Our back yards have no value without people, and people have to be our priority.  Lots of people, not just a few.

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Please enjoy Hamish Anderson’s What You Do To Me.

Thanks to KABF.

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National Service as a Tool for Racial and Social Justice

New Orleans   Talking to Max Klau, the chief program office for the New Politics Leadership Academy, about his new book, Race and Social Change:  A Quest, A Study, A Call to Action on Wade’s World, I was struck that I was learning about veteran and contemporary programs that, frankly, I just had never heard about before.  Mine was a smaller epiphany than Klau describes in his book, when as a younger psychology researcher he witnessed “separation game” at a Camp Anytown session that changed the trajectory of his life and study, and eventually focused his lifetime work.

Maybe you’re in the same boat where I was floating, so let me explain a bit.  Camp Anytown is a youth leadership training experience that has been run for more than sixty years around the country by various branches of the National Conference for Community and Justice, a nonprofit formerly known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews.  The programs, much like the conference itself, is focused on the inarguable core belief that if we know each other better and share time and experience, we are less likely to live with prejudice and bias.  Camp Anyone picks diverse teens and, depending on the locality, runs the camp for three, six or a similar number of days.

One of the more dynamic and perhaps controversial parts of the camps is playing the “separation game” towards the end of the experience.  The separation game, as described by Klau, begins by dividing the youngsters up by race and ethnicity.  The whites eat first with unlimited seconds, and on down the line in the dining halls until the African-Americans end up eating almost nothing and having to sit on the floor.  Over several exercises along these lines like whites watching videos while blacks do cleanup, young people then come together to discuss how race and ethnicity create divisions and discriminatory obstacles.  You get the basic idea.  Some embrace the experience as a microcosm of our society, while some others see it as manipulative.

Klau’s epiphany convinced him that the more opposites are combined, the more they will attract rather than repel, contributing mightily to the strength of our society and democracy.  He also details how this personal insight was cemented by a decade working with City Year, a program begun in Boston and now part of AmeriCorps, part of the US federal voluntary experiential service opportunity offering that includes armed service, VISTA, the Peace Corps, and similar options.  City Year places teams of young folks into city schools to assist in learning experiences.

All of which has led Klau to advocate that a cure for our current national divisions would be a mandatory year of national service.  Though tainted by the mandatory military draft ended after the Vietnam War, this is not a new idea.  Certainly, it was advocated by former President Bill Clinton, and Klau says several of the latest crop of Democratic primary aspirants have said they support some version of this as well.

It’s hard to argue that a shared and unifying national experience wouldn’t be good for Americans now.  It’s equally hard to handicap the odds for a mandatory year of national service becoming reality.  National service may be like some of the programs and organizations like these that have hunkered down to do their part, unheralded, and little known, but able to continue to implement and promote ideas that also won’t die.

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