In Dallas As in Miami, It's Time to Build Low-Income Housing Where the Jobs Are
Who's a liberal these days, and who are the conservatives? I look in the mirror, I don't even know. I look in The New York Times this morning, I'm even more confused.
The Times has a story out of Miami about major cuts in federal housing subsidies. The story calls them "some of the deepest cuts in the country in federal housing money designated for nonprofit groups that serve the poor, the elderly and the developmentally disabled."
So if I'm a liberal, I'm all upset about that, right? But I'm not. In fact, I get it. I assume the same thing is about to happen here. And it looks to me like a good thing.
What? I'm a right-winger and I don't know it, right? Eh. I don't think so. But enough about me. Let's talk about real people.
The story in The Times quotes real people involved in housing programs in Dade County, Florida, howling about the cruelty of cuts in programs for the poor in these very tough times. "These are huge cuts that are impeding the funds of many agencies," one man told The Times. "We are going to put up a fight, and hopefully Washington will listen."
Washington. That would be the Obama administration. But according to the story, "Washington" is not listening to the argument against the cuts -- an argument that Washington has changed the game, ruling out money for the poor at the worst of all possible times.
A spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development tells The Times that no rules have been changed at all: "There is no change in the formula," he says. "It is solely data driven."
There are fewer over-crowded housing units in the inner city in Miami, the spokesman says, and therefore Miami needs less federal subsidy for housing. The advocates are claiming the government is counting overbuilt housing for the rich. But the government says no: 2010 Census workers went door to door and eyeballed each unit in poor neighborhoods. More are empty than used to be.
Well, if there are fewer poor people in the neighborhoods where poor people are supposed to live, what happened to them? You know what I bet happened to them? Same thing that has been happening in Dallas. They got on the bus and went looking for a job. If we want to help poor people who are pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, we should subsidize the housing out wherever it is that poor people are finding work, not keep piling more subsidized housing into the ghetto.
In fact, in the Florida story, I think I hear a faint echo of the same issue Dallas City Hall is up against -- not exactly on the nose, but related. Dallas is about to be in huge trouble because of a complaint brought against it by two developers, the subject of much writing by yours truly - Curtis Lockey and Craig MacKenzie. They have complained to HUD that Dallas has been lying for years about the way it uses federal block grant money for subsidized housing. Every year the city must sign on the dotted line, certifying that it is spending Washington's money to "affirmatively further fair housing," which is bureaucracy-speak for pushing housing integration.
In their complaint to HUD, the two developers, angry with the city over a deal they say they got cheated out of, allege that Dallas has been doing exactly the opposite of what it has said in sworn statement. Instead, they say Dallas has used Washington's money to promote fancy-schmancy housing for rich people downtown and segregated quasi-public housing for poor black and Hispanic people in South Dallas.
City manager Mary Suhm has been whispering in the city council's ear that these are just two disgruntled guys with an ax to grind because they lost their own deal. I wonder if she has also kept them abreast of the fact that their cause has been joined by a top Washington law firm that has already cleaned the clocks of other communities around the country on this very issue.
Here's the deal, and you decide who's the liberal here: The federal money is housing de-seg money. That's the law. But Dallas has used it to build segregated communities, creating an environment in which South Dallas becomes more and more a kind of very polite, freshened-up, newly constructed concentration camp, while downtown draws a more affluent and whiter clientele.
In Florida, as here, you have all kinds of advocates and program-runners who are dependent on that money, and they are very unhappy to see cuts. I'm not going to call them poverty pimps. I believe their intentions are good. But how is it a good thing -- or a liberal thing -- to use public money to fund some kind of poverty factory in an already segregated area?
The Dallas metropolitan area is in better shape jobs-wise than most of the country. None of those jobs is in South Dallas. Nor are they gonna be. Left to its own devices, South Dallas runs off jobs. Look at the poor Korean guy our Greg Howard has been writing about in the Shamrock station on MLK. Protesters are telling him he can't keep selling Twinkies unless he gives them a scholarship fund for black kids.
The deal is this: If you're in South Dallas, and you want a job, you need to move to Richardson or Plano. That's where the jobs are. You have to go where the work is, or you won't get work. That's why this country isn't still covered with trees and Native Americans.
If you want to help people who are trying to make that kind of change in their lives, you take the federal block grant money, stop lying about what you're doing with it, and use it to provide more subsidized housing in Richardson or Plano, the way the law says you're supposed to do.
Poor people need help moving to where the work is, not help staying where it is not. To me, that's the liberal position. Use the money to help people get out of South Dallas and into the mainstream.
Now you tell me what the conservative position is. I am absolutely all ears, man.