Do suburban families deserve the crime Section 8 tenants bring with them?
Maybe middle-class white families deserve the crime and disorder that some Section 8 tenants are bringing into their lives.
There, I said it.
Joe the Cop and I have been writing back and forth about the problems with Section 8 housing. I wrote about how we know concentrated poverty doesn’t work, but no one wants Section 8 tenants living next door to them personally.
Joe wrote about his personal experiences with Section 8 tenants in the suburbs. He had some really frightening and sobering stories about neighborhoods that have been drastically altered by former inner-city families moving in down the street.
I can’t deny that that’s a real phenomenon. While I don’t think Section 8 tenants can be blamed on the whole, I think there’s real evidence that one unintended consequence of the Section 8 housing program is moving crime and disorder to new places as families try to break the cycle of poverty.
But something struck me yesterday when I was reading Joe’s response. At the end, he writes:
I don’t know what the solutions are to the problems of providing affordable housing
and helping people out of poverty. I do know that most people are rightfully wary of the crime and dysfunction that follows Section 8 into their neighborhoods, and they don’t deserve to suffer the results of our good intentions.
I can’t argue with Joe’s experience. I think what he’s saying makes sense. Section 8 was based on a very small, intensive program that helped people to break the cycle of poverty. As it was expanded, the intensity waned. We’re discovering that just plopping a family in the middle of a new neighborhood can help some people, but it doesn’t help
everyone. It’s more complex than that.
What struck me is the idea of the other families on the block deserving a safe community.
I don’t really think they do.
You probably think I’m crazy. Everyone deserves a safe community, right? Well, yes. They do in theory. I want everyone to live in a safe, peaceful community with puppies and swingsets and dainty yellow
But we didn’t set it up that way. Now karma is biting the white community’s ass, and I can’t say I’m that sad.
For three hundred years, this country has been set up and intentionally structured to benefit one group of people while taking away from another. Slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination. The thing about our society’s racism is that it wasn’t just against black people, but it was for white people.
Sociologists call this “white privilege,” and it extends to everything from inheriting the education and wealth
of your grandmother to the impression your name gives to a prospective employer.
Housing is one of the most significant parts of white privilege.
Back in the 1930s, Congress passed the Federal Housing Act, which allowed government financing for home-buyers. Before that, only the rich could own homes. The Housing Act allowed every day people to buy their own home, the essence of the American dream.
Trouble is, all the loans went to white people and white neighborhoods. Ever heard of redlining? Banks would draw lines around areas of the city they felt were too risky to invest in – areas that just happened to be black neighborhoods.
White families have benefited from these years of home-ownership. Property is wealth, and it’s the main way we pass on wealth to the next generation.
By contrast, black neighborhoods didn’t have this resource. Black neighborhoods became predominately rental buildings because no one could get a loan. Then industrial factories left these neighborhoods, creating a vacuum of jobs where gangs and drugs could fill.
If you’re white, you benefited from the Fair Housing Act. You benefited at the expense of black citizens and black
families that couldn’t pass on wealth to their children.
More than 70 years after the Fair Housing Act was passed, we’re still as segregated. In Chicago, 84 percent of the white or black population would have to move to be integrated, according to the Chicago Tribune.
It’s not just housing. There are a million ways in which white people have benefited at the expense of black people.
In America, we think of responsibility in terms of the individual. I am responsible for myself, and you are responsible for yourself. If I do omething stupid, I should bear the weight of the consequences.
But in other cultures, at other times, responsibility was felt inter-generationally and culturally. Just look at the Bible – people are always being held responsible for something their great-great-grandfather’s father did years ago.
I think there’s something to that.
Did I personally design public housing high-rises that concentrated poverty and race and then neglect them over years and years to create a housing system that was a living hell for many?
No. I wasn’t even born then.
But I benefited from it. My parents were able to escape Detroit and move to the suburbs with all the other white families. We bought a house in the country. My family invested in land, and I have benefited from that in
more ways that I can count.
Maybe happy white families in the suburbs don’t personally deserve to be hurt by crime. But maybe we’re
just getting what’s been coming to us for generations. As a culture, as a people, we have systematically kept black people from succeeding and profited from it. Now, we’re reaping the rewards by bringing some of
the hell we created for other people to where we live.
I don’t think Section 8 is the answer to housing once and for all. I think it has a lot of problems. I’m not saying people should shut up about crime in their neighborhoods. I’m just uncomfortable with the idea that we “deserve better” when millions of black children born in the inner-city generation after generation “deserved better” too.