Monday, December 15, 2008

Race Corrodes A Region In Denial

There is a disturbing and demoralizing anecdote towards the end of Kori Schneider-Peragine's fine commentary on affordable housing in Waukesha that I posted Sunday.

A housing expert and planner, Schneider-Peragine recounts a conversation with other planners who told her, after a recent hearing on the subject in Waukesha, that affordable housing would not be permitted in their communities because elected officials in Waukesha County equate affordable housing with African-American occupants.

Here is that portion of her commentary:

"Waukesha County and its historic and present policy is part of the reason that no other metro area in the COUNTRY has suburbs as white as does this metro area. No other metro area in the country!

"The day the housing element was finalized, with no strong, meaningful recommendations, sadly I was the sole NO vote on our subcommittee. I walked out of our meeting with a couple of planners that work for a couple of the County’s municipalities, also on the subcommittee.

"They informed me that there was no way that this committee would have come up with meaningful recommendations. The leaders of these communities, the communities that make up Waukesha County, their elected officials just don’t want multi-family housing. Multi family housing I was told equates to African-American residents. Then they each relayed a story from their specific jurisdictions where their Mayor, or elected leader, prevented multi-family housing from being built in their community for that very reason – racism."

That acknowledgement of racial bias in local Waukesha County policy-making reminded me of a similar discussion I had with elected officials a decade ago during the light rail debate, when two elected leaders of Waukesha County communities told me after a meeting in the Milwaukee Mayor's office where I was working as policy director that they could not support light rail because their constituents feared light rail would bring African-Americans into their communities.

I posted an account of that conversation towards the end of a blog about race 20 months ago, here.

As long as the region condones these attitudes, and as long as local officials falter in leading the region towards away from its legacy of racial discrimination - - particularly in housing - - southeastern Wisconsin's economy will be held back, too.

John Austin, The Brookings Institution's Great Lakes economic expert and author of the highly-touted "Vital Center" study about problems and opportunities in the region, made that very point in his presentation to a legislative committee in Madison in 2007.

We will see if this issue is faced head-on by SEWRPC's long-delayed Housing Study Task Force, and if the agency has the courage - - the trait that Schneider-Perragine is looking for regionally - - to tackle the issue.

SEWRPC could do two things next year as it comes under the leadersip of Ken Yunker, its new Executive Director, to send that very message:

1. It would stop fighting with the very Environmental Justice Task Force SEWRPC the agency created in 2007, and approve the Task Force recommendation for outside and independent socio-economic analyses to accompany all SEWRPC plans as they are developed.

2. It would suspend ongoing studies, making its number-one action item the re-casting of the region's master Land Use Plan into a blueprint for an open and sustainable region for all residents.


Anonymous said...

" affordable housing would not be permitted in their communities because elected officials in Waukesha County equate affordable housing with African-American occupants"


Come to Racine where I live see the affordable housing see the ruin they bring to neighborhoods, the high crime then tell the lie you would live next to them.

I can not blame Waukesha County for not wanting them

James Rowen said...

Who are "they" and "them," exactly?

Anonymous said...

They being the people living in the low income housing.
Them being the housing projects or the neighborhoods where you have clusters.
Low income housing projects and slum lords kill neighborhoods
dead neighborhoods kill cities

James Rowen said...

The officials whom I referred to, and the planners Ms. Schneider-Peragine mentioned, specifically said black people.

Anonymous said...

Many people, including "colt" the commenter above, equate affordable housing with ruined neighborhoods. While there are affordable housing developments that are not properly maintained, nor are tenants properly screened, that is by and large nonexistent in today's development of affordable housing. Given the current resources for creating affordable housing - primarily the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (allocated by WHEDA) developers are required to adhere to many criteria of quality.

I challenge "colt" and any others that share his belief to find a WHEDA tax credit property built within the last decade and tell me that it "ruins the neighborhood" or "brings high crime". I guarantee you won't find one. And further, you'll probably wish you lived there yourself!

krshorewood said...

So colt, who is going to work retail, fast food, etc. in Waukesha county?

By the way, if I am not mistaken I believe there is more drug crime in counties such as Waukesha then there is in Milwaukee's inner city where presumable a lot of minorities live.