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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On the Waterfront

There are at least two sides to everything. Here in the public housing complex (council housing to those outside the US) that I live in, there are two areas of clustered buildings side by side. It's all primarily low-income, disabled and retiree housing. Some years ago this area was declared a flood plain because a large waterway runs through it, though it's never flooded in over 70 years. I know this from an elderly woman, now living here, whose family had a farm here long before public housing came to town. The last time a cellar flooded on this land was in 1938, when a great hurricane swept through destroying many lives and changing the town forever.

In any event, the housing authority here has decided to tear down the buildings in the neighboring area to build a smaller "assisted living" complex. Which means that the 70 or so residents there will soon be tossed out. Living space in this town is all but non-existent and not affordable to those on fixed incomes. Rents here aren't much lower than you'd pay in NYC. The richest folks here are landlords. The working class spends its time making the bucks to pay the rent because frankly most jobs don't pay much here. And so the need for affordable housing is great, causing years of being on waiting lists and a chronic shortage.

There is such a program as "Section 8 Housing" which is where public funding assists those of low-income to pay the remaining portion of market rate rents to private landlords beyond what they're determined able to pay. But Section 8 has been underfunded and the list closed for several years; it seems that the dislocated residents here will be given Section 8 vouchers. At least that's what the scheme is. However, with the recent fire that gutted nearly 60 apartments, the regular demand for housing, the small list of landlords who will accept Section 8 tenants and the limited Accessible apartments for those with disabilities, there just aren't enough available apartments as it is.

So the soon-to-be-evicted are in a hard place. There are allegations of phone-tapping and computer hacking of tenants. The regular fears in being displaced are supplemented by these allegations. We must remember that disabilities include mental as well as physical problems, and the added stress of this situation will likely spark off episodes of whatever existing conditions that those mental illness victims suffer. This is a bad bad scene from any view.

Questions abound. Why not just build a new facility elsewhere rather than tear down perfectly habitable housing? Where are these people supposed to live? Is there a dark motive behind this scheme- to rid the town of some low-income people? For years we've heard the Selectboard (our Council) Chair bemoan that we have "too much low-income housing". Of course, he's not hurting financially- his wife is a major area landlord. The info literature given to the soon-to-be- displaced includes a section about how to move away from the area, with help from the housing authority.

As a new resident, I've tried to stay out of this fracas. I have my own issues to contend with here. But the more I hear, the less I like. There are better ways to accomodate those who need assisted living than to destroy an existing small community. And in the back of my head is the voice of Daniel Ellsberg, quoting Pastor Martin Niemoller when he spoke here:

First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.


Susan Flett Swiderski said...

It's a frightening situation when those with the power and money have no compassion for those without. And yours isn't the only area facing this kind of thoughtless ... and heartless ... situation.

Austan said...

You said it all, sister. We're in terribly selfish times. But we can fight back.