Thursday, April 3, 2014

Keep Public Housing

I was struck by this comment in the Washington City Paper (Chatter, Shelter Skelter, 3/21/14) a week or two ago:
[DC] Public officials attributed the crisis to a confluence of little affordable housing and the vapor trails of the Great Recession. Reader spmoore offered a diagnosis: "The demolition and elimination of thousands of public housing units in the last 10 to 15 years has resulted in a definite spike in family homelessness. There are simply less units to house low income families in need…Society and the city seems perfectly fine with demolishing public housing, negatively stereotyping public housing, and then act so concerned about the homeless spike."
An apartment in public housing is a whole lot better than being homeless. I happened to have dinner in Potomac Gardens on Tuesday evening. It was a great time eating, talking, and, yes, visioning with a small group of Potomac Gardens residents, local homeowners, and grassroots community organizers. This was part of Art in Praxis' experiment, "The Future of [Your] Street" "to activate neighbors in collectively shaping the kind of community they want to live in and be a part of." Potomac Gardens and Hopkins as public housing projects were an essential part of this vision.

The dinner guests discussed ideas that so closely resembled those concepts used in urban sociology, such as Logan and Molotch's Urban Fortunes. They spoke about the difficulties caused by a mindset focused on protecting or increasing housing values and/or on renovating houses as an investment, especially real estate agents and investment groups seeking to maximize their investments (exchange value), as opposed to the mindset of those focused on having a home and building a community to satisfy social and personal needs (use value)(see pp. 1-2 of Urban Fortunes). Many people have a mix of these, but renters have the most interest in use value, of course. As a result, more of the neighborhood was being mobilized for those with higher incomes and for investors than for renters, especially low-income renters, and those homeowners focused more on use value.

One Potomac Gardens resident spoke so thoughtfully about how he wanted more interactions with the neighborhood like this dinner because he felt that those who were new to the neighborhood needed to know things (such as, I think, the norms and folkways of the neighborhood) to feel more comfortable in the neighborhood. This knowledge would allow people to move beyond their imaginations (or common assumptions) and fears about public housing and about the neighborhood (like assumptions about cities based on "The Wire"). This might allow for a more inclusive discussion about The Future of Our Street/Community.

Are you interested in joining in the visioning, in which public housing is fundamental to the vision?

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