Letters: Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Don’t Make it Tougher

To the editor: I read Dan McGraw’s Second Thought article (“Where to Put the Poor People,” Feb. 2, 2005). There is much more that can be said on that topic. I’ve been at planning commission hearings where a developer proposed housing, and the commission required larger lot sizes and other measures that increasing the cost of the housing. I have read in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Fort Worth has concluded that a resident has to earn at least $35,000 a year in order for their city taxes to pay the cost of city services. The Star-Telegram editors recommended, and the city council has acted to adopt, housing “guidelines” that assure that residents pay enough taxes to cover their costs. People who can’t afford that are expected to live someplace else. The city fathers prefer that it be outside the city.
I recall a parcel of land sold by a rancher to a home developer. He retained a piece with a barn and horse pasture. Years later, when the rancher died, his heirs wanted to replace the barn and pasture with houses. The neighbors rose up in opposition — they wanted a park instead. It was eventually bought for a park — whose acquisition and maintenance costs will be borne by all taxpayers, though only the closest neighbors benefit from the park.
I understand that San Francisco has some of the highest housing costs in the nation and that recruiters for jobs there want only local candidates who already have homes in town. The recruiters have placed too many workers who then slept in their cars and washed up in gyms.
I’ve heard of subsidized “affordable” housing programs that didn’t work because there were too few units to meet the need, and many that were available were taken by friends of high government officials. What a deal.
Leo Tolstoy once said something like this, “When you seek to be compassionate, stop for a moment to consider the ways in which you are oppressing the downtrodden.” When you zone for lower densities, when you insist on higher-quality housing, though you deny that it is “exclusionary,” isn’t it really exclusionary —intended to keep the sans-culottes, the hoi-polloi, far away from your backyard?
No wonder then that activists in many of the poorest neighborhoods are opposed to “gentrification.” What can we do that enables our less-well-off neighbors to live more comfortably, more prosperously, in a better community, rather than taking from them the little that they have?
Fifteen years ago, I read of a woman who had left her job in a garment “sweatshop” in Los Angeles to operate a snack cart downtown. She considered that a step up. She lived on less than $5,000 a year, saved some money, and sent some to relatives in Mexico. How did she manage it? For one thing, she and three of her kids shared a one-bedroom apartment with four other people. What are we doing that makes her life harder than it has to be?
David W. Olson

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