Thursday, March 27, 2008

Raise the Drawbridge, I’m Already Inside

Last year I wrote a particularly sarcastic and nasty piece about Hanover County’s attitude toward the less affluent. It went pretty well unnoticed and that is good. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. Besides, since I live in the City of Richmond, how can I possibly understand the attitudes of my neighbors across the Chickahominy River?

My thoughts turned again to Hanover County as I read “
Hanover debating Habitat plan” in today’s Times-Dispatch. According to TD reporter Reed Williams the county Board of Supervisors voted to return to the Planning Commission for further consideration a Habitat for Humanity plan to build in the county. This plan had been approved by the Planning Commission last month, but that was before Hanover residents learned of the proposed development.

Hanover Habitat for Humanity is an “ecumenical nonprofit Christian organization committed to eliminating substandard housing through the rehabilitation and building of simple, decent homes for those in need in Hanover County.” Habitat, which has already built or rebuilt 32 homes in Hanover County, seeks to break “the cycle of poverty by offering an opportunity for families to work for a new home.” Families are chosen by Habitat and must invest 350 hours of their own labor in building their home. Habitat arranges for zero-interest mortgages, which allow families to quickly establish equity in their homes.

Residents of the Cheroy Woods and Brown Grove communities, in the area where Habitat is planning to develop, object to the plan for three reasons. First, they say, the concentration of affordable housing in the area will lead to an increase in crime. Second, the Habitat houses would lower the property values of nearby properties. Third, lower income families moving into the area would “bring more foot traffic” to Ashcake Road, which is too narrow to accommodate them.


Now, where do you think my neighbors in Hanover County got the idea that lower income families living in a neighborhood will lead to a higher rate of crime? Can it be from Hanover Sheriff V. Stuart Cook who told the Hanover supervisors that they should heed resident’s concerns about the proposed development? Sheriff Cook told TD reporter Williams that he has seen concentrations of low-income homes create a breeding ground for crime and that he doesn’t want that in Hanover. I appreciate Cook’s desire to keep crime under control in his county, but isn’t his attitude creating stereotypes about people who live in affordable housing. And, dear reader, isn’t it stereotypes and the fears they produce what this is all about?

The residents of Cheroy Woods and Brown Grove oppose the Habitat development proposal because they are afraid that lower income families somehow produce crime. They are also afraid that lower income families will allow their homes to run down thus lowering the market value of other homes in the neighborhood. These fears are based on stereotypes. (I won’t talk about Ashcake Road because I’ve never seen it, but isn’t the assumption that lower-income families will bring more foot traffic to an area also based on stereotype)? Do the people up in Hanover really believe that all poorer people are criminals? Do they really believe that poorer people will have so little pride in their property that they will let it deteriorate?

The problem, friends, is that we’re dealing here with fear. And, as I hinted earlier in the week talking about the fear of some parents to send their kids to Richmond Public Schools, fear is not a rational feeling. It comes from the most primitive parts of our brain. I’m not sure how you dispel the fear other than showing that it is not rational. In the case of Hanover County that would be done by approving the Habitat development and then letting the present residents realize that their fears were unfounded. However, I don’t really believe that’s going to happen. Leaders of the anti-Habitat residents have made it clear that they will come out in large numbers to make sure that the Planning Commission doesn’t make the same mistake again.

1 comment:

Susan said...

"Sheriff Cook told TD reporter Williams that he has seen concentrations of low-income homes create a breeding ground for crime and that he doesn’t want that in Hanover. I appreciate Cook’s desire to keep crime under control in his county, but isn’t his attitude creating stereotypes about people who live in affordable housing. And, dear reader, isn’t it stereotypes and the fears they produce what this is all about?"

Not necessarily. If there are hard statistics that show higher crime rates in lower income neighborhoods, then it isn't just (false) stereotypes that create the fear.