You're Welcome, Mon
Editor, Reggae Runnins
Black and Right
I hate to say it, but it looks like black persons have more to gain by becoming Republicans than by remaining Demo- crats (Urban Rhythms, 12/20/00). The Democratic Party used to be the party of the working man and labor, and the Republican Party that of management and owners. As more and more black people make it into the top levels of business, it will be to their benefit to become Republicans. What has the Democratic Party done for black people lately anyway, except to scare them just before an election that benefits (you name them--Social Security, Medicare, etc.) will be taken away or eroded by the evil Republicans? Which is the same treatment they give Jewish voters, and especially the elderly of both voting blocs.
It always amazed me that black people were not Republicans, in that slavery was ended by Republicans and white supremacy existed under the banner of the Democratic Party for years. Yet so many liberals I knew were Democrats from the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on; the Republicans managed to alienate everyone I knew with their anti-labor-union image.
Maybe things are changing for the better, and this is a sign of a rising, large black middle class. Now that would be a good thing.
Getting Our Housing in Order
Dave Nowak makes some good points in his letter (The Mail, 12/20). Yes, $162,000 is too much for us to pay to buy and renovate houses in neighborhoods where the going rate is closer to $85,000. And yes, HUD (or, more precisely, HABC--the Housing Authority of Baltimore City) should not be "the biggest slumlord in the city." Dave is quoting me on the second point ("Poor Relations," 12/13/00), which has been true enough over the years, partly because of the vast number of units HABC managed. But I regret the timing of my comment. Paul Graziano, the new HABC commissioner, is just getting started, and he shows promise of being conscientious and creative enough to turn the agency around. Cooperation and support, rather than criticism, are what's needed right now.
Dave also misses some very important points. More than half of all Baltimoreans are renters. Face it, many people aren't in a position to become homeowners. Good-quality, affordable rental housing is not a waste of money, as he seems to imply. You need it if you're paying more than half of your income for rent. Or if the only housing you can afford is so badly maintained that most would consider it unlivable. Or if you're fleeing domestic abuse, or if you have a disability, or if you're currently living on the street. It's a fact of life that many of our neighbors need decent subsidized or publicly owned housing, where the rent is capped at 30 percent of a person's income. And there is plenty of well-managed housing of this type in the Baltimore area. (Where it's well-managed and successful, it usually goes unnoticed.)
It's also a fact that for most of the 20th century, our city's public and private sectors engineered a housing policy that dictated where African-Americans could and could not live, thus creating and maintaining the ghettoes. Public housing was designated "white" and "Negro," and "Negro" housing was always located in poor, all-black neighborhoods. White, middle-class neighborhoods were closed to black people in general for most of the century. For black public-housing residents, the ban continued up until the tenants' lawsuit was settled in 1996. Part of that settlement directed the Housing Authority to buy and maintain 40 rental houses in neighborhoods that had previously been off limits to public housing. Out of 14,000 public-housing units, it's a modest enough remedy.
People in neighborhoods where public housing was formerly banned have legitimate concerns. Will the housing be well-maintained and -managed? Will every formerly excluded neighborhood do its share, including Roland Park, Mount Washington, and Guilford? Will the city support proven means to resolve problems before they become serious, such as community mediation and conflict resolution? Will HABC work openly and respectfully with community groups, following the best practices of successful housing authorities around the country? Baltimoreans tend to be pretty fair-minded. If people can get credible assurances to questions like these, the administration will find that, instead of our freaking out about a few new families moving in, we'll be working hard in our neighborhoods to make sure that the program is a success.
I am writing to put my comments in the feature article entitled "Poor Relations" into context. I am sure that 10 public-housing families moving into Northeast Baltimore will not destabilize this solid part of the city. If these families move in, I believe that they will be welcomed and supported by the generous spirit of inclusiveness that pervades the neighborhoods here. Northeast generally prides itself on being an area where a diversity of people all live together.
At the same time, any administration plans or any process developed to move people here must be carefully designed to include input from residents and community leadership. The point I was trying to make in my comments quoted in the article is that, as solid as Northeast is, studies show a growth in recent years of potential problems that are common in many city neighborhoods. These include the increasing number of elderly people who will be selling their houses in the coming decade and rising commercial vacancy rates. These trends require careful monitoring and adequate resources to ensure that neighborhood stability is maintained. Just "doing the right thing" without the support needed from city government to keep the area strong could lead in the direction of deterioration if people lose confidence in the future of their community.
City officials need to know that residents, businesspeople, local institutions, and government must all work together to ensure that Northeast Baltimore not only holds its own, but grows and thrives. Any plans developed must acknowledge this reality.
Executive Director, the Harford Road Partnership
Editor's note: Susan Fradkin has the week off. Belly Up will return on Jan. 10.
Cartoonist John Orth is also getting a holiday break, hence this issue's archival edition of A Humble-Shine Production. John will be back with a new production next week.
Totally Embarrassing Correction: In a photo caption accompanying the Dec. 13 Gallery review, we managed to misspell Edgar Allan Poe's middle name. Jeez, he's only like the most famous Baltimorean ever, practically. The perpetrator has been walled up in a dank cellar.
More mistake news: The terrorists who held Israeli athletes hostage during the 1972 Munich Olympics were not "Libyans sworn to the Palestinian cause," as described in a review of the movie One Day in September in the Dec. 20 issue. They were Palestinians who had trained in Libya for their terrorist mission.
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