14 December 2005
Weird little contretemps at the City Council meeting yesterday. The Urban League is pushing for a cluster of 44 duplexes near NE 26th and Laird, a couple of blocks north of the Governor's Mansion, and the Council agreed to support it, giving the League a leg up when it tries to secure affordable-housing tax credits from the state's Housing Finance Agency. Willa Johnson, who represents Ward 7 on the Council, was on board with the proposal.
Enter Lenardo Smith, president of the Capitol View Neighborhood Association, and one-time candidate for Johnson's Council seat. He spoke against the complex, saying that they didn't need any more rental units in the area. Johnson shot back:
I appreciate your fervor and your passion about denying people an opportunity to live in an area where they might not be able to buy a home. I have fought for the last 13 years folks that come before this council talking about not wanting "those folks" in their neighborhood.
Smith's Association has rehabilitated three homes in the area for resale and would like to do more; Smith says he'd like to see more programs to help lower-income families buy homes instead of renting.
The Urban League's Valerie Thompson says that yes, these are rental units, but the 44 duplexes are intended as intermediate steps to home ownership:
We could build 100-plus apartment units, but we are choosing not to do that. We want to help people who are not in a position to own a home today establish a credit history, establish some equity to be able to purchase their own home.
How they will establish equity from a stack of rent receipts is unclear to me.
I'm not quite sure what to make of all this. Philosophically, I'm with Lenardo Smith: all else being equal, we should be encouraging people to buy rather than to rent, and I've seen the Association's show house, which was inexpensive yet spiffy. But is all else equal? I can't really blame Willa Johnson for her reaction: it's hardly news when residents of an area are worried about an influx of, um, "those folks."
On the upside, at least no one will be able to play the race card.Posted at 8:03 AM to City Scene