Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Affordable Housing Doesn't Ruin Neighborhoods. Crummy Landlords Do.
The people who are so eager to make it impossible for working-class families to live in Minneapolis need to see this:
Local research indicates that new subsidized housing does not cause an increase in crime, but housing advocates say they continually battle that long-standing stigma. On the East Bank, a proposed 64-unit affordable housing project has some business leaders concerned that years of work to gentrify the area will be undone by a few problem-prone neighbors. The neighborhood business association’s opposition raised concerns among city officials, who are working to add or preserve 670 affordable units in Minneapolis this year. In a recent letter to the Downtown Journal, Lee Sheehy, director of the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development department, offered a statement of support for the project. “As for the East Bank site in question: the mixed-income housing and mixed-use development approach proposed for this site is consistent with the principles and goals of public funders and policy-makers nationwide, not just in Minneapolis,” he wrote. Sheehy said critics can create a set of perceptions about affordable housing projects that are very difficult to turn around. The city considers a unit to be affordable if someone making less than half the area’s median income can afford the rent, spending no more than 30 percent of his or her income. The 2006 median income for a family of four in Hennepin County is $78,500. “I have totally run out of patience arguing for affordable housing,” said David Fields, Elliot Park’s Community Development Coordinator. “There is absolutely no correlation between affordable housing and crime associated with it. It has to do with the property management.” [...] East Bank residents have discussed the question of who, in particular, would live in the affordable housing complex at the US Bank site. In describing potential tenants, the developers rattled off the average starting salaries of teachers, police officers and bus drivers, which typically fall below $30,000. [...] Affordable housing advocates say the issue of crime is never far from the minds of residents who eye affordable housing with skepticism. “Ninety percent of projects done have been exemplary,” said Alan Arthur, head of the Central Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit, affordable-housing organization based in Elliot Park. [...] Ed Goetz, a University of Minnesota professor who specializes in housing and community development policy, has tracked the impact of projects on Minneapolis neighborhoods. “A single development in a neighborhood experiencing a revitalization or gentrification is unlikely to change the trajectory of that neighborhood,” Goetz said. “There isn’t any necessary link between the location of affordable housing and crime activity. What is critical in all of this is [property] management.” In the mid-1990s, Goetz studied crime data at 14 new nonprofit affordable housing projects in Minneapolis. He found there were fewer crime calls at the properties after their rehabilitation and conversion to subsidized housing. One of the properties Goetz studied was the Barrington Hotel at 911 Park Ave. in Elliot Park. A private individual owned the 26-unit property prior to its acquisition in 1991 by the CCHT. Once the nonprofit developer took over management of the building, police calls dropped significantly. Luther Krueger, a civilian crime prevention specialist for Downtown’s 1st Precinct, said responsive property management is crucial to a housing project’s success. [...] He said police have identified four privately owned, market-rate apartment buildings in Elliot Park as sources of narcotics activity in the past year. Constant meetings with officers and a round-robin of e-mails among area residents and owners did not rectify the problem, Krueger said. “Eventually, the building with the most trouble was sold and emptied out, and the next-most-troubled building is now up for sale,” Krueger said. In contrast, an apartment comprised of Section 8 and nonsubsidized units was identified as a problem property two years ago, according to Krueger. He said the building was a stepping stone for people who had previously lived in a structured housing complex with counseling, a 24-hour front desk and security. The building without the extra structure was seeing problems, but Krueger said the problems virtually evaporated after just one meeting with the managers of the property. [...] The National Crime Prevention Council recommends affordable housing as a method of neighborhood cohesion and economic stability. The strategy works best in areas that are growing or redeveloping, according to the council. However, the council also states that densely concentrated clusters of high-rise, publicly assisted housing away from centers of economic activity do experience high crime rates. Martin said the Planning Commission looked at spacing requirements when analyzing new supportive-housing projects. “There is a correlation between crime and low-income communities with not very many services and not a lot of support networks,” Martin said, noting the challenges seen in North Minneapolis. “Although there have been links established between crime and poor neighborhoods — that’s an historical connection that goes back hundreds of years — there isn’t a lot of evidence that, on a project-by-project basis, the amount of crime increases because a new piece of affordable housing gets built. These tend to be cumulative changes.” [...] Some affordable housing experts contest assumptions that there can be too much affordable housing in an area. Goetz maintains in a 2004 article called “The Reality of Deconcentration” that the movement to deconcentrate affordable housing in the mid-1990s stemmed from research showing that poverty was increasingly concentrated in urban areas with high crime. (The Metropolitan Council reported in 2000 that poverty rates in Minneapolis dropped from 18.5 percent in 1989 to 16.9 percent in 1999, but rates are still higher in the Twin Cities’ urban core than elsewhere in the region.) Goetz said an emphasis on dispersed affordable housing can cause neighborhoods to claim they have their “fair share” of low-income housing. Meanwhile, Section 8 vouchers and mixed-income projects have not met the scale of affordable housing needed, he said. In December 2005, the Metropolitan Council projected an unmet need of 22,300 affordable housing units in the Twin Cities metro area by 2010. The demand was based on nearly 171,000 low-income households in the metro area earning less than 60 percent of the median family income and spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Alan Arthur shared Goetz’ view. “I don’t think that the concentration of affordable housing is a problem. I think the problem, if any, is the concentration of poverty, not affordable housing,” Arthur said. “We have to provide housing for [the poor].”
It is very hard even for me to not to believe the stereotype when I am living in it, even when I have lived for many years without these kinds of problems.
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