Monday, February 23, 2009

Will Suburbia Die?: Springfield Township fights section 8

There was an interesting article on Cincinnati.com about Springfield Township resident's and their attempt to fight or limit section 8 housing vouchers to their area. They have in fact prepared a resolution directed at the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing authority to limit the number of housing units as well as remove the township from the list as an exception rent area which enables voucher recipients to receive 110 percent of the fair market rent as a voucher payment.


This a "politically incorrect" statement, but, it is true. You are wasting your time.

I have seen this chain of events happen in several major cities. As downtown core neighborhoods redevelop, section 8 moves to suburbia. Slumlords in the Urban Core are offered major bucks for property they have milked dry by developers who plan luxury loft conversions. Meantime in the Townships, investors buy foreclosures dumped on the market for pennies on the dollar. They are in relatively good shape and easy to get certified for Section 8 housing. Low income housing gets moved to the burbs and the Urban Core prospers.

I have seen this first hand. Back in the 1990's Mass avenue in Indianapolis was "wino row". Vacant buildings, pawn shops and low income housing were the fare for the neighborhood. No one wanted to live there and you couldn't give property away. Today it is filled with trendy shops, pubs, high end eateries and Starbucks. Once empty lots now have luxury low rise buildings like this building at 757 Mass Ave with Million dollar plus loft condos and high end street level retail. The low income neighborhoods that once surrounded the are that were once home to the poor and section 8 apartments now are high end restored neighborhoods where small 2 bedroom shotgun cottages 'start" at 250K and homes sell for over a million dollars. The last vestiges of the poor the township trustee office and a senior housing project are soon to be gone replaced with "affordable and market rate housing" Codewords for "yuppie starter housing". The winos, derelicts and prostitution are gone. The neighborhood has changed.

Contrast that with the townships, once tidy homes and well kept apartments , the areas that whites flocked to in the 60's to get away from the downtown, now have vacant homes, low income apartments and crime and gang activity is an everyday occurrence. Businesses have left, the sense of community is long gone. Once popular Malls like Eastgate Mall , are dead and banks have been replaced by check cashing stores.

If you are a relatively new outsider, new to Cincinnati like I am, the parallels are easy to see. Every few weeks a new luxury condo development is announced in OTR, if you drive through Price Hill and Fairmount, pickups are being replaced with BMW's and Jaguars as people who made their money in Mt Adams head to those area to work their magic again. Almost every block has at least one house "under restoration". Expectations change, behaviors are expected to change and the current residents will move on, these neighborhoods will simply be unaffordable and those residents will move further out.

In 5-10 years, the downtown neighborhoods will be the place to be. The 'problem' of the poor and disadvantaged will have been "relocated' to the townships, the 'Near Burbs'. Springfield and the other townships will put up a good fight. In the end the courts will say limiting Section 8 is a violation of Federal Housing Law and discriminatory. I hate to sound so pessimistic , but I have seen this happen before. In the not too distant future the people who said that they would NEVER live downtown will quietly start looking when the realization that suburbia is in fact dying or they will move even farther out to the "Far Burbs" even those areas aren't safe and you only need look at Cleveland to see that trend.

The neighborhoods I grew up in? I now lock my car doors when I have to drive through them, they are no longer safe. However the downtown, an area as a kid everyone was afraid to tread,I feel totally safe. I feel sorry for the people of Springfield Township, they are only doing what they feel is best for their community. They will be labeled as racists, elitist and politically incorrect, they are, after all just trying to keep their neighborhood the way it is, a decent safe place to live and raise their families. But the very "progress' that made the burbs the place to be now doom it to become a place no one will want to be. There will always be memories, the "remember when" stories will still be around, but things will change.

As hard as they will try, it is simply the "life cycle" of a city and it is now Cincinnati's turn. The downtown will prosper and the burbs will die.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Paul-
I hope that you're right -- well, at least about the part regarding currently over-populated Section 8 neighborhoods turning around.

This isn't a hard-and-fast rule everywhere, though: where we're originally from (northern NJ), the more exclusive (read "rich") towns/counties would simply "pay" more urban areas for their fair share of affordable housing (including section 8). And honestly, I have no problem with that. Towns like Ridgewood and Hopewell (and Simsbury in CT) maintain their beauty via this (and other) method(s).