One of the legacies of FDR’s presidency and the opportunity to expand Federal public policy created by the Great Depressions was public housing and in particular public housing for African Americans, long neglected by US white society. Unfortunately, once the war ended and the Civil Rights Movement came and went, Reagan, Clinton, and then Bush II came along. Despite the current “Great Recession”, many in the US have unlearned (or forgotten) the lessons the past has tried to teach again and again. Public funding and support diminishes and black residents, like those in the Poindexter neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio are forced to move once again.
This last May, it came to light that the city plans to demolish most of the public housing in Poindexter. Unfortunately, the area has fallen victim ta variety of forces such as crime and drugs, but, more importantly, neglect and stupidity from larger society. You can read about it here from a local paper (while that too is still around…).
Assumptions that the free market will solve all problems increasingly strangles civic projects and improvements. Yes, the attempt to privatize social security was “defeated” during the last Bush presidency . . . barely. And despite the fact that the immense recession following on its heels should have taught the lesson once again, it didn’t. We still mortgage civic projects on the private market without public protections: charter schools are the expanding classic example—an option President Obama vehemently supports to his great determinate in my estimation. Public Housing is the latest public project to be privatized: Poindexter’s residents are to be given vouchers with which they must use to rent private housing (see Dispatch article above). Once again, as with the bank bailouts, public money is being used to enrich owners of private property.
And so, public housing, the latest project dating from the great reforms of the last part of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, is under attack, is being dismantled. But, the residents continue to show their heart and argue their case, even if their voice is tiny, tiny, tiny compared to other interests. (See Dispatch article linked above.) In a few weeks they will hold their annual Poindexter Festival, showcasing art and history from the area. It seems in part to be about raising awareness about the issue which I am hoping to assist in.
When I moved to Columbus I was heartened to find neighborhoods and projects attempting to revive areas while hoping to avoid the too-common pitfalls of gentrification. I live in one such neighborhood, close to Poindexter, called North of Broad located in the larger King-Lincoln district. North of Broad, NoBo for short, is a section of Columbus Housing Partnership and are renovating abandoned or foreclosed homes where they can and building new, green homes on empty lots. It is all done with the intent of keeping home prices reasonable and affordable to the surrounding community so as to reduce displacement. A few houses are even subsidized so that lower-income residents can purchase the same homes. Most also come with special financing that feature extraordinarily low interest rates and tiny down payments. The program is linked up with other community efforts such as home-buyer information classes and credit education classes. Only the years will tell if it’s going to be a success, if it fosters an integrated, non-displaced community
But all this is also in the face of the gentrifying neighborhood directly to our south called Old Town East. The president of their neighborhood association, Mike Moore, is pushing hard to revoke the six liquor licenses in his area. With only 900 some odd voters in that area, it’s probably easy to predict which way it might go. In ignorance of history, he believes it will lessen crime. It might in the very short run for the immediate areas around his house—especially littering and open container violations. But, those businesses will die leaving those workers to become unemployed with the other citizens of the US. Furthermore, it will contribute to what may be his unstated goal of white gentrification. Whether or not displacement is his goal is not completely the point; rather he seeks to impose his own notions of respectability on his neighborhood. The association even has a blog complete with happy pictures of white people picking up trash as if that’s the solution to all their ills. More disturbing are the labels of “Boys” to describe groups of what looks like young black men that Mr. Moore, a white male, apparently likes to oversee. . . . I’m not kidding. You can see it here. In any case, it won’t solve any drug problems as he claims. Revoking a few liquor licenses does not make people stop using and selling drugs.
The residents of Poindexter are not going quietly at least. They’re going down swinging, but they are few against many.