Show Me A Hero – an HBO miniseries (also in book form) made for fascinating viewing this weekend. It is about the integration of social housing, to respond to school integration directions, that took place in Yonkers NY in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. Court ordered integration required that social housing (street level townhouses) be placed in residential areas that were middle class, single family, (predominantly) white, neighbourhoods. The reactions of home owners – NIMBY, loss of property value, different lifestyles and behaviours; the role played by the municipal elected officials; and the processes involved, make for a facinating read or view. While certainly the integration of housing within Wolfville is not equivalent to the issues faced in Yonkers, the issues have parallels. I found myself thinking about those over the weekend.
The process of integration was based on a number of principles including:
- Concentrating at-risk communities, separating them from the rest of society, has a negative impact. When this happens with vulnerable housing such neighbourhoods do not support families trying to make a good life, do not support viable schools, certainly do not create healthy neighbourhoods.
That the process of integration benefits from specific supports. Two in the Yonkers example included:
- Requiring a “social contract”. In Yonkers this was a formal contract that guided property maintenance by the housing authority and the lifestyles of the tenants – e.g., no drugs, no criminal behaviour, no behaviours inconsistent with the traditional enjoyment of the neighbourhood. With this social contract negative impact on surrounding properties was limited if not eliminated.
- Creating a support system. In Yonkers this was a formal support committee – not dissimilar to the support committee we have in place to help integrate the recent refugee families into our Town – that worked with the tenants and the homeowners to manage the integration. Interestingly, in addition to staff of the housing authority, some of the members recruited were the most outspoken opponents of the integration process. Together with the new tenants this committee worked to establish good relations with the surrounding community.
As we consider future housing policies in our MPS – where we will locate “rooming houses”, where we might locate social housing, affordable housing, temporary tenure housing, levels of density, etc., these three takaways might be helpful to consider:
- Concentrating any one type of housing in a single area might not be in the best interests of the neighbourhood, or residents. On the other hand, the distribution of such housing will require that they go into neighbourhoods where they traditionally have not been.
- Integrating different lifestyles within neighbourhoods would benefit from a formal social contract – in our case this might include specific types of licensing, landlord agreements and clauses in tenant agreements.
- Integrating different groups would benefit from personal supports – so not just a Town and Gown Committee where town and university staff and elected officials get together to share information but a true working group of neighbourhood residents who work together to make their neighbourhood all it can be, understanding that compromises might be needed on all sides.
So that is what the HBO miniseries has got me thinking about. If you watch or read it, I would be interested to know whether you think the young Mayor in this story was really a hero, an opportunist, or just a character caught up in the river of life of his community….