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

Aug 18, 2013

THE MIDDLE-CLASS IS IGNORED BY GOVERNMENT AS ITS NEIGHBORHOODS DECLINE


by Rosemary Reeves

At a community meeting in Upper Holmesburg some time ago, homeowners spoke with me about years of struggling with the city over crime in Liddonfield housing project and empty promises from public officials, related how the city failed to help their neighborhood, complained how ineffectual and indifferent the housing authority was and worried that the demolished housing project would be replaced by another.  That led me to a turning point.
 

Rosemary Reeves, Blogger
When I started PublicHousingStories.com, stories and articles were written mostly from the perspective of public housing tenants because I used to be one and I felt they had no voice.  One evening I attended a neighborhood meeting in the Upper Holmesburg section of Philly, spoke with homeowners who lived near Liddonfield project and listened to their side of their story.  One woman told me about a man who was gunned down in her driveway.  Another complained about a project resident who sold drugs beneath the kitchen window of his house.  A third person joined in on the conversation with her own story to tell.  All of them said how hard they tried to get the government to do something about crime in the project, including having protests.  They spoke of empty promises from public officials, related how the city failed to help their neighborhood, complained how ineffectual and indifferent the housing authority was and worried that the demolished housing project would be replaced by another.  

They hoped I could offer some morsel of information that could help them exercise some control over the quality of life in their own community.  They asked so many questions.  Why did Liddonfield go downhill?  It was once a decent project.  What happened?  Why doesn’t the housing authority care when people complain?  How come all we get is empty promises?  What do we do if they want to build another project?  What should we have done in the past?    

It was a turning point for me.  I began researching the history of Liddonfield through decades old news articles and what I discovered is that a series of bad public policy decisions was at the root of this neighborhood’s problem.   Blight and crime occurred in this once safe and orderly housing project only after certain public housing policies were changed.  It was a “Eureka!” moment.

The subject of public housing and Section 8, with all its variables such as neighborhood decline, criminality, social class distinctions, race and poverty may seem on the surface too complex to produce simple answers to the questions asked by the homeowners I met that night.  In the case of many declining neighborhoods, it seems the easy explanation is that an influx of low-income people came to their neighborhood and ruined it.  But if there was a sudden influx you can be pretty sure it was due to a change in public policy.  For instance, say policy makers decide that housing projects should be torn down and former residents be given housing vouchers.  The people with vouchers then moved into the neighborhood.  Combine a certain percentage of Section 8 troublemakers with an ineffectual and indifferent housing authority and you’ve got neighborhood ruin.

The ruination of good neighborhoods is one of the worst problems Americans are facing today.  Thousands of working citizens have been wrongly displaced, forced to sell their homes and move away because of neighborhood decline and rising crime rates caused by bad public policy which favors the problem poor over taxpayers.  Too often the influx of low-income persons through public housing and Section 8 vouchers includes a percentage of unwed mothers who allow their criminal boyfriends to live with them in their Section 8 rental homes illegally, some Section 8 households with teenage children who commit crimes and those who drive away good neighbors by loitering, playing loud music and lowering the quality of life in the area.  How is it fair that good neighbors are taxed on the money they have earned through hard work in order to house the very individuals who reap disturbances, blight and criminality upon them?  

What has been called “white flight” is really the last resort of citizens who feel they have no other recourse.   The term is a misnomer.  People of all colors flee neighborhoods that are falling into decline.  A middle-class black family is just as likely to move out of a declining neighborhood as a white family.  Good low-income families would leave if they could, but cannot afford to.  Whites who move out due to rising crime rates and lowered quality of life are often wrongly dismissed as racists.  It is not racist to want your children to be safe and to live in a clean and healthy environment where they can play happily outdoors.  It is not racist to expect others to adhere to a pleasant civic culture where there is mutual respect between neighbors and preservation of property.  

The deserving poor suffer most from the destructive actions of the problem poor.  They can’t leave when the bullets start flying.  They can’t defend themselves against drug dealers with guns.  The government doesn’t do anything to protect them.  In fact, it poured criminals into good housing projects after it halted the screening of tenants (which occurred around the time of the crack cocaine epidemic) until those projects were taken over by gangs.  The gang members then victimized people in surrounding neighborhoods, getting their children hooked on drugs.  

Most average Americans approve of temporary public assistance in the case of a family whose adult members are doing their best to achieve financial independence and otherwise acting responsibly. However, many of them are passed over for housing assistance because the government is influenced by extreme left-wing groups that are busy making excuses for the troublemakers.  These extreme left-wing groups insist that the public simply adjust to the special needs of this new underprivileged generation, some of whose members have no respect for authority, their neighbors or the communities they live in.  I emphasize the word “extreme” because reasonable liberalism does not allow for the rights of the problem poor to take priority over the safety and welfare of communities at large.  

When people leave a neighborhood due to the decline in their quality of life that area loses a significant portion of its tax base, businesses suffer and nice homes depreciate in value.  My goal is to empower ordinary citizens by giving them the information they need to get the troublemakers out of taxpayer funded programs so good neighbors don’t have to move.  There is a way to do this while maintaining the dignity of the deserving poor.  

On another note, I feel compelled to address some of my early criticisms of the middle-class.  For decades, the middle-class was the untouchable American icon of lifestyle perfection.  Incessantly praised in television, film and print media, the middle-class could do no wrong.  No journalist from the mainstream media would dare criticize any aspect of the middle-class, partly because most journalists were from the middle-class themselves and partly out of fear of backlash.  It is for this reason that in some of my early posts I felt obliged to do just that, knowing that a percentage of people might be offended.  The public is not used to having middle-class perceptions criticized.  This is something new and unfamiliar and I understand that.  

Believe me when I say that shielding the middle-class from the reality of the dissatisfied and disillusioned poor at their doorstep has only hurt middle-class people.  It is better they know the honest truth of how poor people view them.  Since the 1960s American society has spread the falsehood that there were no class distinctions in the United States.  This has done a great disservice to the middle-class, leaving it vulnerable to the insidious changes in society that were coming.  The changes are here ─ “white flight,” neighborhoods in decline, rising crime rates and the problem poor who do not aspire to become middle-class but, instead, reject mainstream culture.   

Though I spent my childhood in abject poverty and my family lived in public housing, it should be stressed that I also had considerable exposure to the middle-class in my lifetime.  The parochial school I attended stressed middle-class norms and values, most of which I adopted.  When I became an adult I had middle-class friends, worked white-collar jobs and moved in middle-class circles.  This put me in the unique position to compare, analyze and participate in both social classes.  When reading my early posts containing criticisms of the middle-class, the middle-class reader should keep in mind that in other articles I also provide a number of criticisms of the impoverished class from which I came.  

I would like to thank the homeowners I met that night for wearing their hearts on their sleeve, letting me know their struggles and concerns and asking for my help.  I do want to help them and that is why PublicHousingStories.com has become more inclusive, addressing the needs and concerns of homeowners affected by Section 8 and public housing.  

RELATED STORIES:

Part 1 of Section 8 Trouble:  Why Has Section 8 Come to My Neighborhood?

QUESTION FOR PUBLICHOUSINGSTORIES.COM READERS

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