Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

May 28, 2012

Afraid of Section 8? Stay Put Northeast Philly

by Rosemary Reeves


We must not look solely to the government to solve the problem of blight in our cities.  People fear Section 8 blight because they feel helpless to do anything about it.  In their minds, it is out of their control and so they give up the homes they have lived in since childhood and run to somewhere they feel safe from the wild untamed Section 8 beast that stalks them.  It seems unnatural to stay when Section 8 is stealthily advancing, preparing to devour all they have worked hard for and all the good things they deserve to keep.

Maybe they complained to some government entity in the past, as in the case of rampant drugs and crime in Liddonfield housing project, and were handed empty promises.  Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, they depended on a higher power to fix everything for them.  But it turned out the government entities were only wizards when it came to smoke and mirrors.  The men behind the curtain were revealed as mere mortals who could not fix everything.  

The moral behind the movie classic becomes obvious in the end.  Dorothy and the friends she met along the way learned that what they asked for, they were quite capable of doing themselves.  Alone, each one was weak. Who can forget the cowardly lion that was frightened by his own tail?  But together, they were strong.  When one of them faltered, the others took the helm because they had stopped thinking of themselves as individuals and began thinking as a group united in solidarity.  They also learned that there is indeed “no place like home” and running away from problems only led to more problems.

My suggestion to neighborhood groups who meet to discuss Section 8 is to do the opposite of everything you’ve done in the past.  It didn’t work.  Try NOT inviting a government official.  I know their presence makes your meeting look fancy, important and super legit.  They may even try to help you.  But their hands are often tied by rules and regulations, higher political powers that be and sticky spider webs of politics that most folks can’t even conceive of.  The lack of a public official at your meeting eliminates the tendency to look to them for all the answers.  That’s the beauty of it.  You can invite them in the future.  But for now, you need a meeting just for community members.

The first thing you should do is address the fear of Section 8 so you can minimize it.  Fear is what makes people run.  If you can make them less afraid, then they will stay and not move out because of that fear.  Tell them to simply talk about their fears and not worry about solutions for the time being.  Go around the room.  I guarantee that they will be happy to release their pent up anxiety because they want to feel better.  They also desperately want to stay in their neighborhood.  So, help them feel better.  Give them reasons to stay.

It’s always better to show than tell.  Studies have proven that when people can visualize a concept, they are much more likely to be convinced.  Show them a video of their neighborhood past and present that will conjure up pleasant thoughts and feelings.  Include images of neighborhood block parties, summer barbeques, local sports teams and schools.  

Stop the video and ask community members to share a nice memory about a local sports team they were on or a local school they attended.  Ask what they like best about the neighborhood.  Allow a certain amount of time for them to experience camaraderie and build on their togetherness.  Ask if anyone has a story about how a neighbor helped another neighbor out.

Say something like, “See?  Look at all the wonderful things our neighborhood has to offer and it’s all because of us.  We had the power to make it that way.  We have the power to keep it that way because none of us is alone.  We’re all in this together.”
Explain why it is not worth it for them to move out.  Moving would upset their children’s education, for instance, if they have to enroll in a different school district.  Their kids will lose their friends and have to make new ones.  It’s likely their new mortgage will be more costly.  Can they really afford a higher mortgage when they need to save money for their retirement years or their kid’s college tuition?  If they move out, they will lose the support of lifelong friends and neighbors who know them well.  What if Section 8 comes to their new neighborhood anyway?  They’ll only want to move again.  

Emphasize that a large number of Section 8 properties in the area may well bring blight into the neighborhood, but a small number is not likely to.  This is something well within the control of existing homeowners.  All they have to do is stay put.  In the event that one or two Section 8 families move onto the block, more cannot come if there are no unoccupied properties for them to move into.  

Throughout the meeting and every meeting on the subject thereafter, make it clear that the culprit is concentrated poverty and not individual Section 8 families.   Concentrated poverty has been a nightmare for many public housing tenants in recent decades and moving it from public housing to somewhere else is unacceptable.

If your community group would like to meet and talk to a real person from a housing project, please contact Rosemary Reeves at publichousingstories@gmail.com.

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