Thursday, October 08, 2009

Property values and redevelopment

Anyone who has attempted inner city housing development containing a mixed-income component understands how resistant existing neighborhoods can be when faced with such plans. The almost universal, knee-jerk reaction: opposition.

People worry about the affect of such changes on their property values. Working out of stereotypical understandings of "the poor," people also worry about public and personal safety.

While I've reached other conclusion and have other concerns, I think I understand the reaction. Or, at least I'm trying. For sure, complexity and anxiety attend the issues surrounding any urban development that adopts an inclusive housing strategy. This just always seems to be the case.

Developers, especially non-profit developers, face the formidable challenge of fully informing neighborhoods and community residents of their plans, while maintaining some level of privacy during the period of property assemblage so as not to drive prices higher than necessary. Even more essential, and at times more difficult, is the challenge of building real trust based on honesty and openness.

At best, the process and its challenges remain very difficult. And, the realities of real estate development complicate the entire process.

I confess that I am conflicted here.

I want to see these kinds of projects move forward. In my view, our city needs many more of them for our "under-housed" neighbors, especially among those who have no place to call "home."

At the same time as I say, I'm working personally to understand and to put myself in the shoes of those who resist mixed-income and affordable housing development. I'm thinking of my own street just here, the block on which I reside.

At one end of my street, just five dwellings away, sits a very ill-maintained, dilapidated apartment complex of about 20 units. Frankly, the building is an over-crowded wreck of a place. Several working families with lots of children occupy the facility. I am sure it is what they can afford. But, it needs serious modifications/improvements.

In my view the best solution would be to tear it down and start over. Problem is, thanks to the current zoning laws, anything built to replace it would have to be a single-family home or homes. Yes, the planned development rules at the end of my street cut against the interests of poor families. This is true in many areas of our city.

But, back to the property in question.

What about new development in the form of renovation? What would improve the situation short of simply eliminating it and the families who depend on the housing for their well-being? What would improve rather than erode area property values? What would make things more secure and livable for everyone?

Would a new facade be a plus or a minus? I'd say a real plus. A new look and fresh paint and entrance amenities often work wonders.

Would a new parking configuration with a plan for increased security be a plus or a minus? Next question.

Would a plan to reach out and include the residents in this building in the larger neighborhood be a positive or a negative?

Depends on who you talk to.

A few years back some of my neighbors wanted to close the street at the apartment house end to curtail the flow of thru traffic and to intentionally cut the unsightly building off from the rest of us. Still, I vote it would be a good move to reach out.

Would increased involvement by the owner/developer who'd put some new capital in the property be a plus or a minus? Certainly.

Clearly, whole the conversation hinges on how one regards real community and physical improvements when compared to staying with the status quo.

At times people choose the negative that they already know, rather than the proposed improvements about which they remain unconvinced or suspicious.

This brings us back to building trust among at least some of the stakeholders.

Some will never support such a redevelopment because it implies that low-income people would be encouraged to stay in the neighborhood. These folks support an agenda that removes the poor from their community.

But for others, I continue to believe there is an opportunity to convince them that housing development and re-development is a good move for everyone involved.

More to come. . .


Cody said...

Excellent post, Larry. One of favorite so far. I think I'm starting to realize where my interests really lie.

Anonymous said...

It's difficult to ask this without sounding elitist and anti-poor, but here goes...

Why do so many of the poor fail to take care of their property? I could show you neighborhood after neighborhood near my hometown in which the houses and apartments just became a dilapidated mess.

I understand that many poor people simply don't have the money for renovations, but it takes very little money to keep things tidy. But even that is not done. Why?

This is the main reason I'm not overly supportive of low-income housing in my area.

Anonymous said...

concentrated poverty creates situations of dispair, hopelessness and extremely negative motivation. . .why sweat the yard, the fence, the paint, the porch when you're barely hanging on against the crime, the drugs and the gangs and when everyone for as far as you can see/walk are in similar straits. the best reason for mixed income developments is the benefit that comes with being able to see another way to cope, to be to live. i think this is what larry might say. right, larry?

Anonymous said...

I really try to be open minded. I live in a moderate neighborhood. I am with the second commentor. It costs nothing to be neat. I am not expecting mansions, but I am expecting neat -- pick up you trash, don't park in your yard, don't concrete your front yard, mow your yard, follow the building and zoning laws -- no duplex conversions and illegal carports. I want to live in a neighborhood, not a barrio. Simple respect for the rules is all I am asking. I have been on the front lines of this in my neighborhood for 30 years.

Larry James said...

Thanks for the commens. The entire "neat" discussion is a familiar one and shaped, at least in part, by what I call middle class "selective vision." Code enforcement is a good thing. Work to see it enforced. Some of this upon careful inspection doesnt' have anything to do with money or class. The same can be true with "neat." The tendency toward being untidy is likely spread across the classes at about the same depth! Drive around in any neighborhoods and among homeowners you'll find varying degrees of tidy and untidy.

Many of the eye sore properties in my neighborhood are leased and not owner occupied. One of the very worst properties just around the corner is a lease property, absentee landlord. Every morning on my way to work I see one or more of the tenants of the property sweeping the street and sidewalks, you know, tidying up the place. The building is still a wreck. The old cars are parked on the street, but they are simply what the residents own.

I guess all I am saying be aware that "tidy" and "neat" often are often more complicated than first glance might indicate. And, before rushing to judge, consider the factors outside the control of residents and then look up and own your own street and notice how some better off folks are less neat than some of the very poor.

Chris said...

"The tendency toward being untidy is likely spread across the classes at about the same depth!"

This is the most amazing statement I believe you have ever made. Have you ever seen residents of a poor neighborhood make an annual trip to a surburb of perhaps $200,000 houses for a drive to "clean up" the community? I never have. On the other hand it is an annual event to go to a poor neighborhood and make a "clean sweep" of junk and old tires, old appliances tossed out the backdoor, etc. It takes dozens of people all day to do this, even serving lunch. So no, one will not find junk on the property of nicer neighborhoods at the same rate.

Larry James said...

Chris, on your "outings to the ghetto" did you acutally clean up the houses and yards of owner occupied dwellings or did you clean vacant lots, abandoned houses and allies? Did you repair the homes of the able bodied or did you assist the elderly and the disabled? Most of the time the "exposure" that outsiders have to the inner city and its "untidiness" occurs w/o context or any understanding of what is being seen, the causes or the major players.

Hopelessness works against the impulse to keep things in order. When most of life is out of order due to poverty and its limits, what's the point of making sure everything is in neat stacks? This is why community organizing and the conversations that go with it and the experiences and mutual commitments people enter during it are so important.

Chris said...

We cleaned the yards of both vacant lots and occupied houses. We asked the residents to clean their yards and put out their trash on a certain day and then volunteers picked up the stuff along with help from the community who chose to join us. We also had the cooperation of the Waste Management company who furnished huge trailers. In my opinion, "keeping things in order" can be a great antidote against hopelessness. I feel like your physical surroundings to a certain extent reflects your mental attitude, at least it does mine.

Anonymous said...

Some people clean and cook when they are depressed, some people can't move from the sofa. We are all different and the way we react to stresses are different.
I grew up in poverty, in rent houses that were too small for our large family but all we could afford. We were lucky, we lived in the country and most of the landlords were fairly kind. None of them fixed up the places where we lived and there were very limited resources to fix up the places ourselves (especially when they could be sold right out from under you at any time).
My parents did the best they could to move us out of the generational poverty they came from. Even still I am sure people looked on at the old junky cars in our driveway and the slew of kids in the yard and thought, good grief why don't they take care of that place. Why did they have so many kids if they can't afford to take better care of them.
I live a comfortable middle class life with a nice yard, car and home but I know one thing, you cannot judge how and why someone else feels hopeless, when YOU have managed to make it though with the same problems. Before you look at others as though you deserve your good fortune and they should just work harder, maybe you should look at yourself as a recipient of good luck the same way some are just recipients of their bad luck.
No easy answers, if there were there would be no need for this conversation.


Larry James said...

Thanks, Nancy. Your wisdom leads us out of the non-productive paradigm of judgment. You've described a reality I see daily, with landlords not so kind but just as unresponsive. I have discovered that it is easy to judge people if I regard them only as those "I'm/we're trying to help." When they become friends and loved ones, my prespective changes completely.

Anonymous said...

As someone on the front lines, I am simply asking that you mow your lawn and pick up your trash and not park in the yard. works for homeowners or renters. And if you are an owner -- as many of my neighbors are -- Follow the zoning and code laws -- don't concrete your entire yard, put up illegal structures, etc.etc.

This isn't selective vision on my part. But simply asking people to live by the rules. I don't worry as much about fixing the houses unless I know there is some assistance available.

It isn't selective vision and anyone rich or poor can do it.