Two Cs to Consider - by Florence Sprague

“We can build new housing while preserving the quality and character of adjacent residential districts and ensuring infill development strengthens the surrounding neighborhood.”  Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California and past mayor of San Francisco

I grew up in first ring suburb of Cleveland, born at the peak of the core city’s population. It was a pleasant, protected place to grow up. In my teens, I was distressed when a block of older two-story brick buildings on the main commercial street, the kind with stores on the main level and apartments above, was torn down. A favorite store was forced to move several blocks away (where it thrives to this day) and a steel and glass 7 to 10 story office building rose in its place.

When I grumbled to my father about this, what he said stuck in my head, “When a place stops changing, it starts dying.”

The first C-Change. It is inevitable. Some changes are good, some are bad, and some changes are good for some of us but bad for others. Our role is to plan so that we can optimize the good and be prepared for the challenges that face our communities.

Which brings me to the second C-Community. We all are part of a larger community which we affect and which affects us. It is incumbent upon us to think periodically about how we define community. Is our concept of community adapting to the inevitable changes constantly happening all around us?

Proposals to build new affordable housing in our communities touch upon both Cs. They represent change in several ways-new construction and the intentional inclusion of lower income residents. They connect to community because welcoming or challenging such proposals forces us to think about our personal definition of community.

What sorts of change might new affordable housing bring? More people, and with them more traffic, more cars to park, more students in the school, more conflicts, and maybe people who are “different” from their neighbors. We can plan for these and end up enriched. The metropolitan area is growing and we must grow with it and seek thoughtful growth, not stagnation.

Some of the unspoken changes in the ideas above are already with us.  Change is happening all the time. And these are still wonderful communities. Did you know that the student body of ISD623 is 47% white. Did you know that the need for free and reduced price meals for ISD 623 students was 48% in 2016-17? These are our families who are a large part of our community. They are us, not them.

How do we contribute to making change a good thing? We welcome everyone. We work to be inclusive and neighborly to everyone. We work with our civic leaders to plan for the inevitable growth. We encourage employers to pay a living wage and landlords to support affordable housing. Ah, we have come full circle to affordable housing.

A home provides stability and helps children do better in school. A home connects families to a community. A home offers dignity.

Terminology gets interesting when a topic is controversial and complex. One person’s affordable housing is another’s workforce housing is another person’s panic attack. Why? Words quickly become loaded down with connotations and assumptions and stereotypes which trigger unconscious responses. So pause, take a deep breath and look around.

People are generally smart about social cues. They can tell when a word, a name, a category is considered unacceptable in their circles. Then they avoid being included in that word or concept. Unfortunately, they often do not take the time and effort needed to understand the concept and dispassionately examine its validity and relationship to their selves and their decisions. Emotion and defensiveness then kicks in. That is too bad, because, as noted, people are smart. They could understand if they could get beyond self-protection. I see this a lot with the phrase “white privilege.” “NIMBY” is another one. That acronym stands for “not in my backyard” and is often applied to those resisting the presence of “other” “lesser” things in a certain neighborhood. That is “bad” and no one admits to being “bad”; there is always another reason for whatever is going on.

So, take the time to examine. You are a good person. You don’t want anyone to be homeless. You don’t want anyone spend so much on rent that they can’t afford the other necessities of life, you don’t want children to be uprooted and bounced from school to school, BUT… As soon as an apology or explanation hits the magic word BUT you know that what comes next is likely to negate any goodwill created by what came just before. If you are the one speaking or thinking that BUT, take a moment, no take several moments, to consider what comes after that word.

Decisions about where to locate affordable housing are multifaceted often involving tax policy, social policy, race, crime, fear, gentrification or its opposite, subsidies, schools, impact on kids, and on and on. Individuals have a role in helping their communities to plan and prepare and make wise choices. Change is inevitable.  Like life, it happens while you are busy making other plans. (As John Lennon and others before him have noted.) Work to help the changes meet the needs of all in your welcoming community.