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 21, 2013

SECTION 8 TROUBLE: WHETHER TO MOVE OUT


PART ONE

Comment from Reader:  My neighborhood used to be a premiere location... that is until the apartment complex across the street became government subsidized. The police are called there constantly- drugs, violence and many abusive single mothers, their ill-behaved children and disgusting boyfriends. (Just had to call the cops last night because some guy was strangling his girlfriend). This complex is in the middle of a nice family-oriented neighborhood with teachers, librarians, nurses and business owners; and it has devalued every single-family home that surrounds it. There is constant screaming & yelling, loud rap music, cursing (MF this/MF that) and the way they treat their children is absolutely disgusting. I am trying to be vigilant and contact Children Services, the local police and my neighbors but plan on moving next summer. I refuse to tolerate not being able to peacefully play with my kids in the backyard anymore! (and yes, I realize this makes the problem worse but I do not want my kids exposed to this!)


Response from Blogger:  Moving out is a drastic step, but it is a common and understandable reaction to Section 8 nuisance neighbors who are ruining your quality of life.  The behavior you describe is not acceptable in any neighborhood.  It seems like you have been dealing with this problem on your own and have not found any support from your community.  This lack of support leaves you nowhere to turn and so you feel you have no choice but to move out of the neighborhood you live in.  I won’t try to convince you to stay living where you are, but you do have until next summer before you go and that gives you a timeline to work with.

The articles I have posted so far in the “I Hate Section 8” page within this website have focused mainly on what community groups and businesses can do in regard to troublesome Section 8 tenants.  I will try to offer some help and guidance for individual homeowners, who need it most.  Thank you for commenting on a problem that so many people have.  

Originally, this site focused on the stigma of public housing tenants, as is reflected in my earlier posts.  In the interest of being fair and balanced, this website is expanding in scope to include the concerns and experiences of homeowners who are affected by public housing and the Section 8 program.  This blog has evolved over time to become more comprehensive and will continue to evolve.  I get a lot of my article ideas from readers who comment, so the more my readers comment, the more research I do!

WHY HAS SECTION 8 COME TO MY NEIGHBORHOOD? 

Since the US government enacted the HOPE VI Program in 1992 over 200,000 public housing units have been demolished.  A small percentage of former project tenants were placed in mixed-income developments, but many were issued housing vouchers which pay a portion of their rent and they have been moving into mainstream communities.  They may use the housing vouchers to rent an apartment through a Section 8 landlord.  In some states, like Massachusetts, all landlords must accept the housing vouchers.  In some cities, this is already resulting in neighborhood decline.  Homeowners frustrated with problem Section 8 tenants and lack of community support are selling their houses and moving en masse to more expensive neighborhoods, hoping to regain their quality of life.

SHOULD I SET A TIMELINE FOR MOVING OUT?

I would suggest to any homeowner who is thinking of moving away due to problem Section 8 neighbors to wait a year before deciding to go through with it.  A year may seem like a long time, but not when you’re making a life changing decision.  Selling your house, transferring your kids to another school, leaving the friends and neighbors you’ve known for years and finding a job in a new town is a huge undertaking and it’s never a good idea to make a life changing decision under duress.

Allowing a year to arrive at a final decision eases the stress.  You can rest assured you aren’t rushing into anything and you win back a sense of control.  In addition, you have a timeline in which to take a controlled number of steps to remedy the situation with the nuisance neighbors following the advice I will give you, advancing from step one to step two and so on.  By the end of a year you will be able to determine whether the situation has improved and if so, by how much.  If by then it has not improved to your satisfaction, then the decision whether to move out will be an easier one to make.

WHY IS IT HARD FOR HOMEOWNERS TO FIND INFORMATION ON THIS TOPIC?

Section 8 troublemakers ruining neighborhoods is a sensitive issue.  The mainstream media often tries to avoid the appearance of bias by steering away from sensitive topics or treating those topics in a neutral fashion with statistics and a quote from an expert.  This is often how the mainstream media treats the subject of race, for instance ─ by treading lightly.  There are some news articles about neighborhood ruin due to Section 8, but just reading about the problem is of no help to people who are actually having to deal with it.

I frequently research what information actually is out there on mainstream society vs. the subculture of poverty and most of it is contained in academic texts, which cite the results of sociological studies.  These texts are full of statistics and scientific jargon.  Though they contain much information pertaining to quality of life issues, they are not geared toward the mainstream public.  Sifting information out of pages of statistics is a labor intensive task and a barrier to many people who could benefit from this information. 

Policy makers often rely on sociological studies to determine where the poor should be housed and how they are housed.  In short, these studies determine whether poor families come to your neighborhood and whether they live in housing projects or on your block.  Unfortunately, most Americans don’t know the first thing about public policy, even though government policies are often the reason a neighborhood goes into decline.  Another reason it is hard to find information on this topic is because the wide-scale demolition of housing projects is a relatively new policy. 

IS IT REVERSE PREJUDICE?

There is plenty of social class prejudice when it comes to Section 8 and housing projects.  It began in the McCarthy era when the real estate lobby urged Senator Joseph McCarthy to wage a campaign against public housing.  During his witch hunt in the 1950s McCarthy claimed public housing was full of socialists who were a danger to religion.  Also the National Association of Home Builders and the U.S. Savings and Loan League placed ads in newspapers directed at tax payers with phrases like, “Can you afford to pay somebody else’s rent?”  This campaign led to the poor being characterized as lazy and parasitic, which stigmatized public housing residents ever since.

Because they were segregated from mainstream society into housing projects and also stigmatized, public housing residents formed their own subculture.  At first, this subculture was a healthy network of public housing neighbors and friends but over time it deteriorated greatly.  Because of this, society often fails to  differentiate between the deserving poor and the problem poor.

On the flip side, it is a gross injustice when homeowners living in good stable communities are not provided with sufficient channels through which they can protect themselves from Section 8 tenants who are ruining their neighborhoods.  As a former public housing resident, I view this as a kind of reverse prejudice against the homeowners who are having the quality of life in their neighborhoods destroyed by nuisance Section 8 tenants.  This has led to displacement of homeowners in the interest of the problem poor, as many of them are forced to sell their homes and move out.

However, it is important to distinguish between the problem poor and the deserving poor and to avoid anger words like lazy and deadbeats when describing low-income people because it increases stress and implies prejudice.  The use of anger words makes the person reporting a Section 8 property appear bigoted and when that happens, that person will have a hard time getting help from any organization.  

PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF ENVIRONMENTAL STRESS

Depression, anxiety, fear and feelings of powerlessness are common in people whose neighborhood is deteriorating.  These can be symptoms of environmental stress caused by nuisance neighbors, litter, graffiti and the loss of friends and neighbors due to flight.  George C. Galster, Hilberry Professor of Urban Affairs in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at Wayne State University wrote this in his presentation papers (source link is below this article):

“Physical Surroundings: Decayed physical conditions of the built environment (e.g., deteriorated structures and public infrastructure, litter, graffiti) may impart psychological effects on residents, such as a sense of powerlessness. Noise may create stress and inhibit decision-making through a process of “environmental overload” (Bell et al., 1996)”

Problem Section 8 tenants cause their neighbors a lot of stress.  Because of this a homeowner seeking relief often feels like he or she is suffering alone.  For instance, say a homeowner named Shiela wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep because people hanging outside a Section 8 property are talking loudly and blasting music.  In her state of anxiety, Shiela focuses on her own misery.  She does not realize that Bob next door and Sally down the block also woke up and can’t get back to sleep.  Shiela thinks it is her problem, but it is not.  It is the neighborhood’s problem.  

THINK OF BUILDING A SUPPORT SYSTEM AROUND YOU

Realizing that it’s the neighborhood’s problem and not hers alone will help Shiela get into a healthier frame of mind.  Shiela is probably under stress and focusing on her own misery will worsen that stress.  When Shiela thinks of it as her problem, only she can attempt to solve it.  When the neighborhood has a problem, it’s much easier for her to build a support system. 

If a crime is being committed, by all means, Sheila should call the police.  She should also complain to her local housing authority about the nuisance Section 8 neighbors.  However, it’s likely her plan of action stops there.  She repeats the same pattern of calling the cops and complaining to HUD to little avail.  HUD isn’t looking out for her interests and the police can only do so much.  Sheila needs backup and the best way to get backup is to contact an organization that functions with the neighborhood’s interests in mind.

Civic groups represent the interests of people living in a particular neighborhood or town.  They often have programs that focus on quality of life issues like blight, crime and neighborhood deterioration.  Many neighborhoods have civic groups and they are a great resource to go to.  These organizations also tend to have a lot of influence over local politics.  Some civic group members have a network of influential contacts which they have built up over many years. Civic group members arrange town hall meetings with local politicians demanding answers to pressing issues and sometimes even organize protests. 

If you are a homeowner like Shiela with nuisance Section 8 neighbors, you need to contact your local civic association for support, but not yet.  First, you have to know what to say and how to say it.  

Next week:  How to approach your local civic group about problem Section 8 tenants. 


Don't forget to subscribe to this website by using the "follow by email" or subscribe button on the top right side of the home page!  (The "follow by email" is easier to use).  When you subscribe, you receive an email notifying you each time I post a new article!

SOURCES: 

How Did Public Housing Survive the 1950s? by D. Bradford Hunt, Journal of Policy History 17.2 (2005) 193-216

Joseph McCarthy vs. Truman Over Public Housing, Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service

George C. Galster, Hilberry Professor of Urban Affairs, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Wayne State University

RELATED STORIES

Part 2:  The Right and Wrong Way to Garner Support




No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting on PublicHousingStories.com!