Driven from the Gates | Street Jazz

Monday, June 30, 2008

Driven from the Gates

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2008 at 9:26 AM

I wrote this story 13 years ago. And yet, when I read it over, I have to ask myself, what has really changed since that time. Once again we have been voted as one of the best places in the United States to live - if you are financially well off.

But if you are living on the edge?

Well, magazines don’t generally track that sort of data, and if they do, our local media isn’t likely to trumpet it - “Fayetteville listed as near rock bottom for working poor. No details at 6pm.”

We know about the valiant work of those who run local homeless shelters, but what about those who are trying their hardest to make sure they don’t end up in a homeless shelter? The ones who so often get evicted to make way for a developer’s dream - which so often turns out to be a nightmare of empty, unsightly fields, looking more like a war zone than a “development.”

So you tell me - how much has changed since 1995?

This is an excerpt from “Ozark Mosaic.”

Driven from the Gates
The New Poor

Written by Richard S. Drake

At the same time that Fayetteville is being touted nationally as one of the most desirable places in the country to live, many of its residents are finding it almost impossible to continue to afford living in Northwest Arkansas. This is doubly distressing, as it comes at a time when this community finds itself in the midst of a gentrification process that will leave Fayetteville undesirable for all but the well off.

For many years, American cities seemed to be just thrown together willy-nilly, with no thought to planning at all, in contrast to European models, which seemed to grow naturally from a town center.

Perhaps because so many believe that capitalism is somehow ordained by God, market forces have been the dominant force in city planning. Though Fayetteville was not as bad off as many other cities, some still saw signs that this community was going the way of so many others. Little thought seemed to be given to innovative city planning. It all came to a head this last spring, when newly elected members of the city council found themselves in opposition to previously appointed members of the planning commission whose sole creed seemed to be based on market forces.

The results of that clash were the bitter resignations of three commissioners and the city's adoption of the 2010 plan, which is designed to serve as a guide for the long-range development and growth of the city.

The plan had been contested by some in the city, who derided its goals, and particularly its references to the so-called "village plan," which would bring the neighborhood concept back into a city long held in thrall to the automobile.

As a result of that controversy, and the fact that after a long battle, the planning commission was persuaded to allow its meetings to be televised on Fayetteville's Government Channel, many in Fayetteville seem more aware of the issues relating to growth, particularly at a time when northwest Arkansas' population has been growing by leaps and bounds.

According to the city document, "A Summary of the General Plan 2010," affordable housing is one of the chief goals of the city, while "avoiding the detrimental effects of concentrating affordable housing."

Sadly, though, while recent controversies have brought closer public attention to the building and housing situation in Fayetteville, some members of the public have reacted negatively to the concept of affordable housing. Some at public meetings have even debated the need for more affordable housing.

Affordable Housing = Gangs, Drugs?

The problem may be one of perception. Many of those in the forefront of the battle to bring growth under some semblance of control are, frankly, in the upper income brackets, and may have no conception of just what affordable housing is. To some, judging from comments at public hearings, affordable housing means crime, overcrowded tenements and the wrong element coming into Fayetteville.

To the men and women who work in our area for low wages, affordable housing means another thing altogether.

Many will tell you that their only hope of owning a home is to buy some land in the country and put a mobile home on it. Affordable means being able to buy or rent in a decent neighborhood within your income range.

No Utilities Paid, No Pets Allowed

But that goal is fast becoming an unreachable goal for many in Northwest Arkansas - and in this nation. It used to be said that you shouldn't spend more than a quarter of your monthly income on your housing, but that would be unreasonable in today's market. Many people who work full-time in our plants find that they must share an apartment, or spend almost half of their income on rent and utilities.

A telephone survey of apartment buildings in Fayetteville revealed costs in the three hundred dollar range for one and two bedroom apartments, with deposits beginning at one hundred and fifty dollars and going all the way to two hundred and sixty.

Most of the apartments contacted said that fifty dollars of that deposit would be kept as a cleaning fee, though one establishment said that the entire amount would be refunded, ten days after leaving the premises.

What has caused this steep increase?

Perhaps some of the deposit increase can be laid at the feet of those tenants who leave apartments in such a filthy state that it takes a major cleaning operation to restore them to
normalcy. But what percentage of tenants actually leave apartments in. such a sloppy state as to how many are not that sloppy? (And how many who do keep their apartments clean are then somehow done out of their deposits?)

Some argue the huge increase in rents over the last few years can be laid at the doorstep of landlords who cater largely to university clientele, whose rent is paid for by outside sources (loans, parents, and so on). But affordable housing has disappeared while the number of students at the university has first peaked and then slightly decreased. Besides, things don't get any better out of town.

In Springdale, for example, the same range can be found, and in Rogers, some two bedroom apartments go as high as four hundred and fifty dollars.

Duplexes are no cheaper than apartments, and townhouses can sometimes be twice as expensive. Many find themselves paying weekly rates in old trailer parks and dilapidated motels, paying upwards of one hundred dollars a week.

One trailer park in Fayetteville has been rumored to partition trailers off, and rent both ends out to those who pay weekly. Though both ends might contain bathrooms, only one section might have a kitchen.

There are also a number of places which rent rooms by the week, most for quite moderate sums.

To help combat that trend in Fayetteville, several longtime community activists have founded the Fayetteville Housing Cooperative, specifically to create opportunities for affordable ownership for the poorer families in the community.

Living without a Net

It has been said that many Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless, and the working poor in Fayetteville are no exception. These is some help, however, for those who find themselves in dire straits.

The Fayetteville Housing Authority, located at l North School, can offer rental assistance, or even help you obtain low cost public housing, provided you can hang on the wait, often up to six months. Both the rental assistance and the public housing departments have at least seventy people on a waiting list at this writing, and each can only help a maximum of three hundred and seventy five people at any onetime, which is the number mandated by the federal government. When you consider that they take care of most of Washington County (except for Springdale), those numbers don't seem very large.

There are also agencies set up to help those who have trouble paying utility payments. Marge Yancy of the Economic Opportunity Agency runs an energy assistance program, which can assist low income residents with utility payments.

They may receive one lump payment during winter months, and after April, they can receive a payment for the exact amount of the utility payment.

Since January, around 1600 people have been helped by this program, the majority during the winter. Most of these recipients, Ms. Yancy assured me, have jobs.

For those who are in dire need, there are several shelters, chief among them the Salvation Army, which can house you for up to three nights, perhaps longer if arrangements can be made.

And, of course, for those who fall through the cracks, there are woods next to our parks, and sleeping places under bridges, or in abandoned buildings
or cars.

Class Issue?

The sad truth is also that much of what passes for public housing in Fayetteville and other cities is dreadful, and the residents themselves often times do not want to live there. When some who are affluent hear the words "affordable housing," they are looking at these areas, not realizing that affordable housing simply means having a decent place to live and raise your children. The notion of actually improving these areas, instead of condemning families to live in them, never seems to arise.

It means making things easier for families to buy homes in nice areas, rather than creating new ghettos, filled to the brim with people who are made to feel that they are not quite welcome in the cities where they work and spend their money.

Many seem to see affordable housing as breeding grounds for drugs, and gang warfare. "Not in my neighborhood," is the petulant whine one hears at public hearings and forums. This notion is as racist as it is ignorant.

When gainfully employed men and women in our community cannot afford to live here, something is dreadfully wrong.

And when we hear comments at public meetings revealing both ignorance and fear concerning affordable housing, it gives the impression that, for some, the working poor have no place in Fayetteville's increasingly gentrified future.

Ozark Gazette - June 26, 1995




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