Blue, right up until it affects you personally

Marin County is one of the bluest of blue counties in America. Lynn Woolsey, the ineffectual and unintelligent Marin representative to Congress garnered close to 80% of the votes in the last election, if I remember correctly. But its easy to be Blue if you’re talking environmentalism and war. How about being blue when it affects something very personal, such as your property values and neighborhood atmosphere. That’s when the red starts trickling out:

A group of residents in the pricey Marin County community of Strawberry are mobilizing against an affordable housing plan by the renowned charity Habitat for Humanity, saying it would blight their neighborhood.

The group is convinced that the plan to build four three-bedroom units of low-income housing in their neighborhood would result in increased traffic and parking congestion and lower property values.

About three dozen residents who live near the proposed construction site — 16.5 acres just west of the Tiburon city limits — are attempting to raise $100,000 for legal fees to challenge the project, which still must be approved by the county Planning Commission.

“Habitat for Humanity goes into blighted neighborhoods and fixes them up. Here they are going into an enhanced neighborhood and blighting it,” said Bill Duane, a 58-year-old resident of Bay Vista Drive, near the proposed site. “I’m not against low-cost housing, but this is social engineering. The county does not have the right to choose my neighbors.”

Such a ruckus is not unusual in Marin, where homeowners have been notoriously hostile to development, especially the kind that threatens to lower the value of their property. But the charity made famous by former President Jimmy Carter would seem an unconventional target.

I should add that I’m completely sympathetic to the residents’ complaints. Because of a court order (we love those social activist judges), low income housing is being built near my up-and-coming neighborhood. Mr. Bookworm explained to the kids that we needed this housing so poor people could have a place to live. He seemed unimpressed by the fact that there is all sorts of non-government sponsored low-income housing (we’re talking marketplace here) within 5 miles of our home. But noooo — thanks to some do-good activists and the courts, we face the very real risk that our neighborhood will see a degradation, not only in value, but in quality. Both matter.

Value matters because we paid a lot for our house, and it is our primary asset. To have some dubious social engineering destroy my nest egg is deplorable.

Quality matters too. I know from the myriad government housing experiments in San Francisco that government sponsored housing always degrades quickly and is a crime magnet. This proved true even when San Francisco tried what’s going on here in Marin — placing low income housing in the middle of affluent neighborhoods, on the theory that the poor people would live up to the neighborhood.

In San Francisco, in every case, the low income housing brought down the neighborhood. People do not take care of rental property the way they take care of owned property. People do not even take care of property they own if they haven’t sweated and slaved to earn it. In addition, the low income housing invariably brought in the drug trade. Even if the home owners/renters were decent, hard working people, the same could not be said for their children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, etc. These youngsters had attitude and it transcended anything the older generation tried to teach them. | digg it

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  1. JJ says

    Government – on any level – never, ever, ever, ever, ever learns. “Myriad experiments in San Francisco,” is pretty typical. I don’t believe there has been a single example anywhere in history, and I mean the history of anywhere on the planet, where the theory of the alleged poor living up to something – a neighborhood, for example – in which they’ve been put has worked out. Never, not once, anywhere. The experience is always that the whole place goes down. Not once have they ever come up. And the government has absolute faith, every time, that: “this time will be different! This time it’ll work! Because… because… because – it just will!”

    Never does. Habitat for Humanity has not at any time ever fixed up, or even in the long run vaguely enhanced, a blighted neighborhood. The concept sounds great, the accomplishment is rather less (the organization is a perfect metaphor for its number one idiot, Carter) and the end result is never quite – or anywhere near – what it was supposed to be.

    This conversation has been previously explored, and by the standards of the world and the UN, there are no poor people in this country.

  2. says

    “I thank thee, Lord, that I am not as other men….like that publican over there.”

    Check out the Hunt Street Apartments situation in St. Helena, CA (another VERY blue spot) if you wish to know why people with middle-class values (REGARDLESS of their income level) share what you so condescendingly (and inaccurately) characterize as “contempt for the poor”.

    I have no problem with ANY neighbor, of whatever color, creed, income level, number of heads, or whatever – so long as they share with me the attitudes and actions that keep a neighborhood clean, safe, and pleasant to live in.

    If that means you think I have “contempt for the poor”, you can think it, and I’ll keep on ignoring you.

  3. Zhombre says

    What good is being a liberal, if you can’t adopt the holier than thou attitude, and accuse others of being insufficiently compassionate and hard-hearted toward the poor, or insufficiently concerned for the environment, or insufficiently devoted to peace and progress, in contrast to one’s own excess of virtue. After all, when one is on the side of the angels, one’s opponents are devils by default.

  4. says

    Sorry Zhombie, There are no devils among us. Just people who think their values should be adopted by all, and ones who think poor people ought to be able to decide for themselves whether to put junk in their front yards or not.
    And I say this looking out my window at a pile of laddars, paint cans, a car with no windshiled that was covered with plastic until the wind blew. I hate that junk but not the right of the people who own it to put it there.

  5. says

    I don’t have contempt for the poor. I do have contempt for government engineering that, rather than raising the poor out of their misery, has the soul effect of destroying thriving communities. And yes, the poor have pathologies. There are better ways of addressing them, however, than the kind of social meddling we’re seeing now — social meddling incidentally, that seems to fail without fail. Incidentally, you may want to check out Gerry Charlotte Phelps’ essay about “What the Poor Are Like?” She is a hands-on community activist who doesn’t just whine about the poor, but gets in there with them. That means she knows the pathology of poverty — unlike your average ivory tower professor social engineer — and responds to needs on the ground, rather than theories in the air.

  6. Zhombre says

    Good for you. I’m all for people living their lives independently. But BW’s post strikes me as being about a certain type of housing being imposed by judicial fiat on a community that doesn’t want it. Don’t people in a community have some right to object to what is erected in their community? Be it low-income housing, or a Wal-Mart or the umpteenth Starbuck’s, or an “adult” business? And I must say your initial post struck me as wholly sanctimonious and holier than thou in tone.

  7. says

    It is a sad state of affairs, Book.

    I at least knew ahead of time that you had no contempt for the poor. I don’t know why that really needs to be said… or maybe I do but I won’d devote enough analytical circuits to it *shrugs*

    Real engineering requires understanding the principle forces that drive electricity and physics. So social engineering would have to understand the basic forces that drive humans. Do they? No.

    Strawberry. Very funny, Book, very funny…

  8. says

    Hi Helen,

    You refer disparagingly to “people who think their values should be adopted by all.” But doesn’t that describe you and ever person on the left at least as well as those on the right? Don’t you wish everyone would adopt your saintly values? Given your holier-than-thou opening comment on this thread it would certainly seem so. In any event, you utterly missed the point of Bookworm’s post, as has been explained.

    BTW, I’m with you on poor people being about to put their junk in their front yard. But how can anyone who has a front yard be considered poor (assuming it’s really theirs and not a gift from the government)? If you live in a neighborhood where even the poor are rich by the standards of 90% of the world, thank a capitalist (who, BTW, probably doesn’t share your saintly values but will do more for the poor than you will ever do). Sorry for the tone of this comment, but your first comment was truly offensive.

  9. says

    DQ, I am sorry I was offensive. Please accept my apology. This thread, however, is about the fear that one’s property value will decrease because of the habits of one’s less affluent neighbors. I know “location, location, location,” but it’s time people’s houses were worth what they are worth, not what their neighbor’s houses are worth. And yes, that

  10. says

    No, I wasn’t thinking about religion at all. I just knew that, as a fan of Jimmy Carter, you’d have an interest in the subject of low income housing. I figured you’d be a likely person to kick off the discussion. What does praying have to do with it?

  11. Lulu says

    Hi Helen,
    I do work with the poor, and I wouldn’t want a project or housing for the poor going up in my neighborhood either, and I’ll tell you why. Not because there are no upstanding, honorable, hardworking people amongst the poor. Far from it. In many of our own families poverty isn’t very far removed, whether it was experienced by grandparents, parents, or even in our own lifetimes. No, I don’t want it in my neighborhood for the same reason so many of the poor don’t want to live in their own neighborhoods- the increase in gangs, tagging, crime, aimless teens, substance abuse and so on. When the poor become less poor, they move out to somewhere safer.

    In my opinion, a far better use of resources would be to have excellent after school programming for kids and teens, exposure to the arts and literature, and generous support with tutoring and mentoring programs to give them an alternate vision and some positive direction in life.

    And I too thought your opening remark was judgmental and arrogant to a very unflattering degree. As the old saying goes, “people in glass houses…”

    But we Conservatives are very tolerant. We’ll give you a second chance. (smile)

  12. says

    Danny, the general coffers (monies from taxes) aren’t “other people’s money.” They are ours. And we includes the poor.

    And LULU, when the poor “move our to somewhere safer,” (which they do, doesn’t that leave the slums i was trying to avoid?

  13. Kurt says

    The discussion of neighborhoods and property values and all leaves out those of us living in rural areas. Out here there are 1/2 million dollar homes paying around 5k (or more) in property taxes every year…within earshot of 70’s era trailers with rotten floors…paying nothing.

    I bring up property taxes beacause it is a reflection of perceived value. Wealthy people (including, relatively, myself) don’t seem to be too bothered about moving into blighted or less desireable areas if they find something they like. But once there…they’re suddenly concerned about property values.

    The fastest growing and wealthiest area of our nearby town is within sight of the coal-burning power plant. Since the plant is already there it is a non-issue for people building million dollar homes. But if they were to try and build a plant after the rich houses are in? Oh, there’d be hell to pay.

    I’m just rambling…not really offering any ‘solutions’. The poorer a person is the more tolerant they seem to be to blight. That is a local observation. Rich neighborhoods do not typically have garbage in the front yard, cars up on blocks, unkempt landscaping, and vacant crack dens. Yes, there are jewels in poor neighborhoods…but the places are generally eyesores.

    So I wonder if it is more about personal values than property values. Sure, we can humerously target the so-called values of a person who would spend thousands on their lawn, devote more construction materials to sheltering their cars than contained in an entire African village, etc. But at the end of the day those people would still rather surround themselves with neighbors who have common values…no matter how shallow some perceive them to be.

    Look at the record of less well-to-do people who have won lotterys. It is depressing. Almost enough to discourage a thinking person from buying the occasional ticket. So while poorer people can be handed various entitlements…lifting them up and placing them among people who have far wealthier lifestyles does NOT (as a rule) seem to suddenly change them into ‘wealthier’ people. So…since supplying people with the trappings of wealth (cars, 3 bedroom/2 bath houses, locations near rich people, etc.) doesn’t, by any large observable degree, change a person into someone who has worked 60 hour weeks and made lifelong sound financial decisions…is it any wonder why those who have dont’ really want these people around?

    Hell…I don’t know if I’m even making any sense.

  14. Danny Lemieux says

    HelenL, I accept your argument with regard to public coffers. However, I do not accept your argument with regard to: a) property values, and b)the power of one group to impose taxes upon others.

  15. Don Quixote says

    Hi Helen,

    Taxation is arguably theft. It is the forcible taking of ones money with the full power of the government behind it. Thus, money in the public coffers is “ours” in the sense that the government owns it, but that ownership was obtained by force.

    I can think of several justifications for a government forcibly taking money from its citizens to pay for necessary services (internal and external security, for example) but how do you justify forcibly taking money from the person who earned it, only to turn around and give it to one who didn’t earn it? If I put a gun to your head and stole your purse, it would be a crime, even if I stole it only to obtain money to feed or house the poor. Why is it not also a crime when the government does the same thing?

  16. says

    Helen, of course I accept your apology. In fact, to the extent that your comment, combined with a book I’m reading, gave me an idea for a long term series of posts, I’m very grateful for your comment, and the series of comments it sparked. It may surprise you, but we do envision many of the same goals for our society; we just differ about means.

  17. says

    Because, DQ, at least in theory, the US gov’t is “of the poeple, by the people, and for the people.” The people = all the people. Because we are a “melting pot,” or so they say. Because we are all Americans. Because as Americans we ought to concern ourselves with the underdog. Americans love the underdog.

    Maybe that’s why we don’t eliminate them! :-)

  18. says

    Re 24: DQ’s comment reminded me of a very old joke coming out of the Cold War:

    Man #1: Come the revolution, we’ll all get to drive around in Rolls Royces.

    Man #2: But what if I don’t want to drive around in a Rolls Royce?

    Man #3: Come the revolution, you’ll have to.

    I recognize, of course, that poverty is not a choice, but certain lifestyle decision are choices and you can’t change them. Believe it or not, I used to do a lot of pro bono legal work helping people fight evictions. I stopped, eventually, because it was manifestly clear (with one exception), that these tenants had done everything in their power to trigger the evictions. That is, they had embraced lifestyles that encompassed all sorts of profligate activities and irresponsibility, but that did not include paying the landlord for their apartments. I couldn’t in good conscience use the judicial system to make it impossible for these landlords either to collect rent rightfully due or to evict deadbeats.

    This pro bono experience, which lasted many years, taught me that poverty isn’t just a lack of money. In many (not all, but many) cases, poverty is a collection of personal pathologies that cannot be addressed by government handouts and won’t be repaired by moving these pathologies into nice neighborhoods.

  19. says

    Bookworm, It doesn’t surprise me, and maybe that’s because we both know that some of this is rhetoric. I don’t speak for you, but sometimes I learn by talking. And I do reserve the right to cahnge my mind. I’m not a finished product.

  20. says

    Helen: That is a nice, open-minded attitude, which I appreciate very much. As Don Quixote knows, while I’m fixed in many of my views, a well-reasoned argument can turn me around on some things. I like the fact that you’re willing to take on issue fights here without getting personal and without being deterred by the forces arrayed against you. Indeed, as I said, I have in mind a long term series of posts based on an idea you gave me, which combined very well with a book I’m reading.

  21. Don Quixote says

    Hi Helen,

    I’m a bit lost. Are you really saying it’s okay for the government to steal your money and give it to me just because we are both Americans and you “ought” be concerned about me and give to me voluntarily if I need it? That does not strike me as an adequate justification. It certainly wouldn’t be an adequate justification if I stole your money personally, rather than using the power of government to steal it. The government should not play Robin Hood and, anyway, Robin Hood was a thief, however honorable his motives.

  22. says

    I want to repeat something said earlier — this really isn’t about the amount of money that someone moving into the neighborhood has. Plenty of people with professional incomes would be (to me) bad neighbors, because they refuse to keep their lawn cut, or their junk picked up, or their kids under some reasonable level of control. And I’m acquainted with plenty of folk who make below-average salaries with whom I would be perfectly at ease as neighbors.

    It’s about a value system, and how that is played out in every-day life, that makes a difference.

    That said, I did laugh at the Marin County folks, who are “oh so willing” to impose Section 8 housing on middle-class neighborhoods, being so politically incorrect as to object to a Habitat project of four homes. Hey, the Habitat families have to invest their own sweat in those houses – I’d guess that their pride in their homes, and willingness to keep them up (middle-class values, even if in low-income folk) would be significantly higher (on average) than in the rental-assistance folk who come with a section-8 building.

  23. says

    Bookworm, #1 was a poor choice of words. Hindsight says I should have simply said, I am so glad I do not share your opinion.

    DQ, if you think taxes are thievery rather than the means whereby we run our nation, I see your point. How would you run the business of government, if not by taxes?

  24. Don Quixote says

    Hi Helen,

    As I indicated, some taxes are necessary. Even though taxes are taken by force, I recognize that voluntary contributions or usage fees would not be sufficient for the government to do what it legitimately needs to do and some level of taxation is a necessary evil. However, forcibly taking money form the person who earned it just to turn around and give it to a person who didn’t earn it is not a legitimate or necessary (or even desireable) function of government.

  25. Danny Lemieux says

    Er, DQ – great posting, as always, but let me rise to the defense of Robin O’ the Wood: Robin Hood “stole” money from the Church and Prince John (i.e., government) that had forcibly been taken (i.e., taxed) from the poor working stiffs of the era by the Church and the State, and returned the liberated Normangeld and Romangeld to those self-same stiffs from whom it had been taken. Now, I know that I am not a lawyer…but did that make him a thief?

  26. JJ says

    Made him a folk hero, but yeah, he was a thief. The money was stolen in the first place, but two wrongs still don’t make a right, and stealing it yet again puts it at least into the problematical category.

    DQ, your #24 is interesting, and brings up a point not so far addressed by anyone but you in that post. There are plenty of places I’d like to live: how come I can’t? Hell, I’d like to retire to full-time residency on the Queen Mary II (there are those with the funds who reside on the cruise ships, Cunard will let you live there) with full time room service, sumptuous food, an ever changing view out the window, and a doctor who makes house calls – but I can’t afford it, so I won’t.

    There are plenty of places I’d like to live on solid ground – but I can’t afford them, so I won’t.

    But I’d like to. And sometimes I even feel entitled to. So how come the government doesn’t show up to say; “OK, move on in” in my case?

  27. says

    Hi Helen,

    But of course. Nearly everything all of us say here is just our opinion. And I suppose we are not about to persuade each other. But my “opinion” is that taking property by force from its owner for the sole purpose of giving it to someone who did not earn it immoral, all the more so if the all-powerful government is the taker. When it’s the government doing the taking it is not only immoral but dangerous. No institution should have that much power. I gather in your opinion it is perfectly okay for the government to use its power to forcible take anything from you it wants for whatever reason it wants. That’s you opinion, but I believe it is a morally flawed and dangerous one. Don’t think we can reach common ground on this one, I’m afraid.

  28. Danny Lemieux says

    HelenL, you might also want to consider your position on taxes and real estate values in view of the controversial 2005 Supreme Court “Kelo” decision, in which the Liberal wing of the Supreme Court decided that it was OK for government to take private property under the “takings clause” and turn it over to developers. The justifying rationale was that the developers would increase the tax revenues from such property, thereby contributing more money to government (i.e., public) coffers. A huge blow for business against the “little guy”. Do you agree with that, HelenL?

  29. says

    This issue originally concerned the building of cheaper homes in a neighborhood with more expensive ones. I favor that. Habitiat for Humanity is not a governmental agency, just one many hate because of its assocaiton with Jimmy Carter.

    Governmental seizure of private property for whatever reason is an entirely different issue. This thread is too deeply buried and the issue will come up again, so this is my final comment there.

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