Jun 20 2022

OPINION: Housing Element Wrongfully Proposes Isolating Low Income Families in Blair Park


Tonight’s agenda lists this hearing as new business — but that’s not quite accurate.  This hearing (scheduled, disappointingly, at 5:30 p.m. on our federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the US) is a continuation of a meeting of roughly a century ago. At that meeting, the Council gave into the worst instincts of constituents and directed staff to use city resources to drive an African American family from Piedmont and thereby making clear that minorities were not welcomed in the community.

The long arc of history has since bent toward justice, and State law requires you to identify sites for about 215 units of low-income housing. But history has also repeated itself because constituents have urged you to isolate all or nearly all the units in Blair Park, physically separated from Piedmont proper.

Sixty years of research into the costs and benefits of low-income housing tells us three things.  First, low-income housing remains, unfortunately, stigmatized — it’s typically not welcomed in established neighborhoods. That’s why the State has had to require communities like Piedmont to accommodate such housing and that’s why some of your constituents urge you to concentrate the units in Blair Park, physically apart from Piedmont proper. Second, the benefits of low-income housing are greatest when the housing is least stigmatized by the host population. Third, stigma is reduced when low-income housing is dispersed throughout the community.

The hard truth is that research tells us that concentrating low-income housing in Blair Park will, by virtue of sheer physical and social isolation, create the most stigmatized circumstance imaginable in Piedmont.  Make no mistake – putting all, or nearly all, mandated low-income units in Blair Park would be the most stigmatizing choice you can make.

If you approve language in the draft Housing Element that leaves open the option of cynically isolating Piedmont’s low-income housing in Blair Park, tonight’s meeting will be, like that a century ago, continued until justice calls upon some future city council to explain why low-income families live segregated, by city policy, from other Piedmonters.  Be assured that the then City Council will think of you the same way you think of the Council that, a century ago, used the resources of the city to make clear that African American families were not welcomed in Piedmont.

Ralph Catalano, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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