Monday, September 15, 2008

The View From White City

I am a lawyer. I am in the business of helping people get through conflict. One of the greatest hindrances I have found in this task is people's inability to see a situation from the other side's viewpoint. I live in one of the neighborhoods adjoining White City. I don't think the folks trying to force a homeless shelter down the throats of the White City neighborhoods have really considered the view from the other side.

To put our position in context, you have to know something about the neighborhood. White City and the neighborhoods surrounding it are some of the few left in Tulsa where working people can actually own a home that they can afford. For decades now, realtors and the banking industry have encouraged average people to buy more home than they need and certainly more than they can afford. Americans have so overspent on their housing that the whole economy is threatened. The older, usually well built and well maintained homes in White City are one of the few places in Tulsa where blue collar, gray collar, white collar and professionals can live in an economically diverse neighborhood and all still stay within the economic goal of paying no more than a third of their total household income for housing including maintenance, utilities, necessary upgrades, etc. It is an old fashioned mixed class, mixed income neighborhood that should be the model for future developments instead of the dumping ground for city problems.

It is a neighborhood with challenges. Prostitution on Eleventh Street has always been a problem on and off. Rent speculators, pimping government subsidized Section 8 benefits, have created mini-slums on some blocks. The streets are in desperate need of attention and TPD is paying less and less attention to neighborhood crime, especially neighbor on neighbor problems that often occur when you mix people working for the roof over their heads with folks who have that roof provided for them by the government.

At its most basic, the proposed Admiral and Yale homeless shelter appears to be a giant rip off to the average White City resident. Joe Sixpack, Susan Secretary and Ernie Engineer see nothing more than an attempt to handle a downtown problem by exporting it to their neighborhood. Combine that with the fact that the proposed downtown "baseball" trust is aggressively trying to control the property values and development around THEIR investment and the whole deal appears profoundly hypocritical. The downtown elites are using all of their political and legal power to prevent the very type of development risk that THEY THEMSELVES are forcing down the throats of the White City residents. Taken at its most basic they are saying that their for-profit investment in a ball park deserves the city's protection while the White City residents investment in their homes does not.

The pairing of the Driller's Stadium issue with the homeless shelter fiasco creates a whole new line of inquiry. Joe Sixpack can't see why the folks downtown are so hell bent upon moving the Drillers in the first place. They have a relatively new, well maintained ball park already with plenty of parking and easy accessibility from all over town. Why cram it into a hole downtown where even more expensive solutions like light rail are necessary to cure the parking and accessibility problems?

When Joe, Susan and Ernie all sit down together in someone's living room and try to figure out a way to save their neighborhood, it is almost impossible to present any motivation for their city government's actions other than profit. A lot of already wealthy individuals are going to make a whole lot more money on this deal over the next several years and a lot of people in White City are going to lose their homes or at least be stuck with a home that is unsellable. Obviously, some of that money being made downtown is going to come out of Joe, Susan and Ernie's investment in their home.

So called "mainstreaming" sounds wonderfully compassionate so long as you don't have to be personally involved. In this case, a Tulsa neighborhood is going to pay dearly for someone else's "compassion" and so are the people they are trying to help. Placing a homeless shelter at the intersection of a busy street and an interstate highway doesn't seem like a very good idea unless you want to reduce the number of homeless through traffic fatalities. Taking the homeless from a place where they were within walking distance of all their needed services and placing them in another where they are miles away on an infrequently served bus route doesn't make much sense at all. As a matter of fact, to Joe and Susan and Ernie it seems like a formula for having a lot of people walking through their neighborhoods and hanging around the neighborhood bus stops and parks.

My neighborhood has experience with a so-called "mainstreaming" experiment. After several years, the "mainstreamed" neighbor is still there. But, the previously occupied homes on both sides of his are boarded up as is the previously occupied home one house down on one side. The home next to the boarded up home on the other side sold at one point on a contract for deed but the buyer cancelled after a few weeks because of the problems with the "mainstreamed" neighbor. It became a Section 8 rental unit. One of the houses across the street went vacant after the young couple who lived there couldn't take it anymore. They tried for months to sell their home with no luck. It is now a rental unit. That's five homes whose values have been severely degraded due to one property. The character of the whole neighborhood changed. And, it's not as though the homeowners were passive. Far from it. Over the years, there were at least fifty calls to the police. Many of them went unanswered. There were petitions to the police department and DA which resulted in no determinative action. The fire department answered dozens of calls about trash fires and made arrests for illegal burning more than once.

Nobody trying force this deal down Joe, Susan and Ernie's throats will ever have to look out their front door and see a homeless person urinating or defecating on their front yard. Nobody on the ball park trust will be afraid to let their children play outdoors or be forced to tell their children they can't play in their neighborhood park because it is full of strange people drinking from brown paper bags. Nobody on the Mental Health Association board of directors will have to lie awake all night while a "neighbor" off his meds beats on a trash can, cursing and yelling for his neighbors to wake up. Nobody who is making a profit on this series of deals will have to sit for an hour or more behind a locked door waiting for TPD to respond to a "low priority" neighborhood dispute ... if they respond at all. And, nobody in the alphabet soup organizations pushing this plan will have to talk a normally peaceful neighbor out of harming the person who has made his family live in constant fear and made his own life a living hell.

Taken at its most basic, Joe reasons, "They are taking the Ball Park downtown and giving us their homeless. There's nothing in this deal for me for me but trouble. As a matter of fact, they are crapping all over me and my neighborhood. So, there's nothing left to do but fight." And, try as I might, I can't see a single argument to refute Joe's logic.


Blogger Lamont Cranston said...

Though I normally think you are a little nuts, you are speaking the straight reality here. It is difficult to overstate the contempt for the town demonstrated daily by the boys downtown. Brooksiders know well how to create a slum in a nice neighborhood....we drive past Exhibit #1 at 61st street everyday.

Nice blog, by the way.

James M. Rogers

3:45 AM  
Blogger Bill Kumpe said...

Thank you for the compliment about my blog.

I am sorry to say I can't place you so I wonder how you could come to the conclusion that "I am a little nuts." I am going to guess that you are another attorney.

Having said that, I am happy to find myself in the company of men like Antonine Scalia who said:

“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools ... and he has not been disappointed.” ...

“If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

6:37 AM  
Blogger Lamont Cranston said...

My apologies. My offhand remark that you were a "little nuts was directed only to our political differences and no to your legal acumen or, stil less, to any religious inclination (latin mass boy, myself).

However, though are political inclinations may differ, I am quite in sympathy with your point that the residents of White City are getting shafted by the apparatchiks downtown. They are not the first neighborhood to receive " the treatment" and, unless Tulsans of good will express themselves, they are unlikely to be the last.

My legal career was undistinguished for the most part so probably the less said on that, the better.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Bill Kumpe said...

No apologies necessary Mr. Cranston. I've developed a pretty thick skin over the years.

People of good will from all political persuasions can usually agree about right and wrong most of the time. They may disagree about what to do about it, but the facts remain the facts.

Thank you for excellent comment.

8:06 PM  

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