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

Jul 28, 2013

PART 2 OF SECTION 8 TROUBLE: WHETHER TO MOVE OUT


PART 2:  The Right and Wrong Way to Garner Support 
By Rosemary Reeves

If you missed part one of this series, click on the link below:


In order to build a support system around you when faced with Section 8 nuisance neighbors or approach your local civic group , you have to know what to say and how to say it.  This article includes some examples to follow.   
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GARNER SUPPORT, NOT SYMPATHY

There is a right way to garner neighborhood support when it comes to the problem of Section 8 nuisance neighbors and then there is the way that is doomed to fail.  Before you attempt to build a support system, ask yourself what you want.  If it’s sympathy you’re looking for, you will find plenty of it from angry neighbors who wish to channel their frustration about Section 8.  Be careful not to subject yourself to toxic stress by having emotional conversations that focus on the negative without producing any helpful results.  Keep in mind that each conversation you have about the problem should produce something ─ an idea, some good advice or the name of a good contact person to go to.  Also recognize that it’s up to you to manage the conversation.  If it is going sour, then steer the conversation back to where you want it.  Do this delicately, so the other party doesn’t realize you’re taking control by maintaining focus.

When striking up a conversation about Section 8, it is likely your neighbors will want to channel their frustration through you.  Be prepared for it.  You can display empathy by nodding your head and letting them vent for a moment or two.  Let them use all the angry words they want about Section 8 in the minute or two you give them, then delicately steer the conversation where you need it to go.  

In part one, I wrote about a fictional character name Sheila who woke up in the middle of the night because the Section 8 tenants across the street were playing loud music.  Today is Saturday and Sheila is grocery shopping.  She sees her next door neighbor, Bob, in the dairy aisle.  Bob usually has a bounce in his step, but not today.  He wearily pushes his shopping cart and is looking a little down.  Below is an example of how Sheila might approach Bob about the nuisance Section 8 tenants:

Sheila:  “Good morning, Bob!”

Bob:  “Oh, hi, Sheila!”

Sheila:  “You look a little tired, Bob.  Didn’t you sleep well last night?”

Bob:  “Heck, no!  Those Section 8 dirt bags across the street were playing loud music at 3 a.m.!  I was supposed to do some work around the house, but now I’ll be dragging my feet all day because of them!”

Sheila:  “That loud music woke me up, too, Bob.”

Bob:  “That’s the third time this week.  I called the cops and they finally turned off the music, but watch those deadbeats do it again tonight!  There goes the neighborhood!  My wife and I have started talking about moving out after all these years.  This is terrible!  We’re both retired and the house is paid for!”

Sheila:  “Maybe there’s a neighborhood group that can help us, like a local civic association or something like that.  I’ll look into it.”

Bob:  “A lot of good that will do!  It’s Section 8.  You can’t do anything about Section 8!  The taxpayer has no rights anymore.  I worked all my life and now that I’m retired, the government throws Section 8 on my block and I get to watch my neighborhood go downhill because of lazy people who don’t want to work.  No rights!  Hardworking people like you and I have no rights at all!”

Sheila:  “Get some rest, Bob.  Try not to let it ruin the rest of your day.  The weather’s beautiful.  I’m going to take a nice stroll later.”

Sheila ends the conversation with a friendly farewell.  She should feel good about herself.  She successfully controlled the conversation from start to finish.  Sheila approached Bob with an open-ended question that would lead to a conversation about the nuisance Section 8 neighbors.  This enabled her to find out how Section 8 was affecting Bob.  Sheila was prepared for Bob to channel his frustration.  She allowed Bob to vent for a minute or two, nodding in sympathy.  She kept her own stress in check by not joining in on Bob’s justifiable but toxic anger.  When Sheila decided the time allowed for him to vent was up, she continued to exercise control over the conversation by ending it on a friendly note. 

It may not seem like Sheila got anywhere, but actually a lot was gained from her conversation with Bob:

1.    She found out how the Section 8 tenants were affecting Bob
2.    She found out that he doesn’t want to or can’t move out
3.    She found out he is feeling desperate

So, what should Sheila do with this information?  People who are reluctant to move out of the neighborhood or are unable to because of the cost or the fact that their house is paid for and they don’t want to take on a mortgage will make the best allies for Sheila.  They have the most to lose by doing nothing.  Those who can afford to move out and are hell bent on doing so will be the weakest link in Sheila’s chain of support.  This conversation was helpful to Sheila in her effort to garner support because she knows Bob is likely to be highly motivated to take action when Sheila is ready to guide him toward that end.

As Sheila carries on her daily routine meeting neighbors at church, in the course of shopping and dropping their kids off at school, she should strike up similar conversations with all of them, maintaining focus and control for the purposes of information gathering. Before contacting an organization for help, Sheila should make reasonably sure it really is a Section 8 property.  She can find out by calling the landlord and asking if they accept Section 8 tenants.  Sheila should be respectful.  It’s illegal to harass Section 8 landlords or tenants. They are a protected class. 
If at least several of the neighbors are adversely impacted by continuous disturbances which are caused by the Section 8 tenants, Sheila can turn to her local civic group.  Remember, right now she is still just gathering information.  Before she picks up the phone, Sheila has to know what to say and how to say it.

HOW TO HAVE YOUR CALL TREATED WITH HIGH IMPORTANCE

You should never call an organization for help with Section 8 when you’re feeling desperate, annoyed or upset.  The person on the other end of the phone will be judging the importance of the call and if you’re rambling on in a burst of emotion, not only will it be assigned low importance but the listener will probably want to get you off the phone as soon as possible because you have become bothersome.

Wait until you are calm and collected.  After introducing yourself to the listener, you might want to avoid the repeated use of the word “I”.  Repeated references to yourself implies to the listener that it is your individual problem instead of the neighborhood’s problem and thusly, your call may be assigned a low level of importance.  It’s always better to say “we.”  When multiple people are involved, the call ranks higher in importance.

For example, if several of Sheila’s neighbors are being adversely impacted by the nuisance Section 8 tenants and she’s mentioned calling the civic group to them, she can say the following:

“Hello, my name is Sheila Jones.  I’m calling on behalf of some of the residents of the 2800 block of X Street.  We’re having a problem with a Section 8 property, such as loud music late at night and repeated disturbances.  We are wondering if your organization can offer some guidance as to what to do about it.”  

It is okay to mention this property is Section 8 because the rules and laws concerning Section 8 are different in some ways than those concerning a private residence.  The listener may refer you to the housing authority.  That’s okay, but don’t end the call just yet.  Ask for the listener’s name, and then inquire if there is someone within the organization who is in charge of quality of life issues such as neighborhood crime and blight.  Get that person’s contact information and the best time to reach him or her.

When you call the contact person, introduce yourself the same way and mention the name of the first person you talked to.  Whenever a friend or colleague of theirs refers you, they are usually all ears.

Next:  The true story of a California town that tried to rid itself of Section 8 and the strategies that were employed.   

RELATED STORIES:

Part 3:  The Town That Tried to Rid Itself of Section 8

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