People often use the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty to reflect on the change in our immigration policies from encouraging desperate working (white) folks to immigrate to privileging skilled workers who already have financial stability. Of course, we all know our immigration policies have little bearing on who actually ends up in this country, but that’s another post for some other political blogger. I’m interested in how the poor, the tired, and the homeless fare in Richmond’s hot housing market. But first, the famous excerpt from the Statue of Liberty poem:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.

Style has an excellent, nuanced, in-depth article about the problems urban redevelopment creates for poor folks, There Goes the ‘Hood. I can’t recommend this article strongly enough: seriously, folks, if you’re excited about new lofts, historic renovations, new high-end shops, you need to read this article, it may open your eyes to the downsides of all of this investment in the city. Similarly, if you’re concerned about gentrification, affordable housing, and racism, you need to read this (same) article, it exposes how government policies exacerbate these problems and tells the story of those affected.

I’ve been pondering for some time how to write about the issues of poverty, racism, and affordable housing on my new blog here. Since I spend so much time celebrating our city’s progress towards greater urbanization, I’ve been feeling the need to expose its downside and, hopefully, help further our communal conversation on how to mitigate its negative consequences.

For those of you naughty people who read this post and don’t click through to read the article, shame on you (Although I suppose you could have already read the article elsewhere, I guess I’ll give you, my loyal readers, the benefit of the doubt.) Well, whatever, here’s a few quotes anyway:

On tearing down the projects for mixed-income communities:

Consider Richmond’s former Blackwell community: The Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority tore down the 440-unit Blackwell in 1999. The plan is to replace it with 583 units, but only 153 of those housing units would be made available for public-housing residents. To date, only 161 apartments and town houses have been erected in its place; the first apartments opened more than two years after the old Blackwell was torn down.

On why our neighborhoods are segregated by income and race:

“A lot of people think the kind of racism we experienced here in Richmond was caused by Jim Crow laws,” [UofR urban studies professor John] Moeser says. “The federal government itself fostered racism. What we have today [i.e. racially and economically segregated housing] in large measure harkens back to what happened in the 1930s and after the Second World War. And even though today the laws have been … taken off the books, we’re still living with the consequences.”

On our governments’ handouts to the rich:

“I think we roll out the red carpet in the city of Richmond — millions of dollars we subsidize for businesses,” [ACORN program director David] Herring says. “You’ve got subsidies for everybody and his brother who is a developer, but what do you have for the people who make this town work? I don’t know.”

Thank you Scott Bass and Chris Dovi for writing such a great article that both celebrates the good while acknowledging the bad. That’s a hard balance to strike and I think they’ve done admirably. Now, let’s get to work solving these problems.