Thursday, February 24, 2011

Shock Therapy in Ward 6

Breaking up public housing breaks up social networks. Public housing is often dismantled and then rebuilt in a new form with a new name (like Capper-Carrollsburg becoming Capitol Quarter), in the hopes of dismantling the perceived dangerous or dysfunctional social ties that seem to cause crime, poverty, and other social problems. Yet, sociologists have shown that economic, social, and political success requires social ties, what they call "social capital." Building on the research that has shown that most people get their jobs through personal contacts, Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter showed that weak ties, not friends or family but acquaintances or friends of friends, help the majority of people get jobs. Low-income groups, in fact, rely on such social connections much more than those with higher incomes and thus, as John Betancur demonstrated in an article published this month, displacement "can seriously disrupt or destroy their systems of support, exchange and reciprocity or social fabrics." The loss of these networks make it more difficult for the poor to find jobs and childcare, as well as have a public voice.

So, with the indiscriminate destruction of social networks (functional and dysfunctional), those with strong social networks can take advantage of the situation. In Eastern Europe after 1989, many experts called for shock therapy to wipe away the remnants of the past system. While these countries gained democratically, all their economies collapsed. In the wreckage, foreign companies and well-connected individuals (like Russia's oligarchs) could buy companies inexpensively.

There is no question that the residents of public housing were complaining about the state of their housing. Except in the case of the 162 seniors in the senior building and about 25 other families/individuals (of the original 707 families/individuals), the former residents of Capper-Carrollsburg are not benefiting from the major investment being made in the site, after years of neglect. According to Affordable Housing Finance magazine, the redevelopment of Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg as mixed-income housing is using a total of $460 million, combining "12 funding sources to leverage a $36 million HOPE VI grant." The very-low-income residents have been dispersed, diminishing their social capital, and likely remain isolated and in poverty in their new neighborhoods (see the research of Goertz and Chapple). The residents knew that this would happen and tried to stop their displacement from happening, while still asking the city to invest in and improve their community. As I said in a previous post, one could say that the "failure" of public housing was a failure of government, businesses, or other entities to invest in poor areas and the "success" of mixed-income housing was the result of massive investment in these areas.

Who is benefiting from this redevelopment? Who has been allowed to maintain and strengthen their social networks?

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