Monday, July 26, 2010

Must they LOOK like the projects?!


Why is it that you can spot "the projects" a mile away, no matter where in the world they are located?

I just don't get it. The cost of these homes are GREATLY subsidized by tax dollars (you're welcome), and the residents are not responsible for the cost of maintaining the unit. Plus, in many cases, the residents are also taking advantage of, er, utilizing a myriad of government assistance: WIC, EBT cards, home heating credits, free phone service, health care for themselves and their children, subsidized child care, cash assistance, the list goes on, and the combination of which should put their actual bills due at next to nothing each month. So why, prey tell, do these housing developments take on the appearance of such shit holes?

It's one thing to live a humble life. My husband grew up poor, but his father is a hard worker and did not rely on the government, or anyone else for that matter, to provide for his family. He worked hard, made an honest living, became a homeowner, and passed his work ethic onto his sons. As a result, my husband grew up knowing what it meant to earn his own way, and he provides a comfortable life for our family. The cycle of poverty was broken. It's an entirely different thing to be poor and not care about it, and to have no initiative and make no attempt to NOT be poor, or to have your children rise above the blight that you CHOOSE TO raise them in. Not to mention that being poor doesn't mean that you have to live like pigs, simply sitting in your pen, not contributing to the betterment of the community in any way, shape or form.

In my home state of Michigan, the projects were a pretty clearly defined area: mainly, ALL of Detroit, and then a rough looking area in some suburbs that housed the "section 8" housing developments. No matter what city you were in, you could easily spot this "bad side of town". It just looked dingy, poorly lit, broken, littered, and unloved. But here, in North Carolina, I was surprised to see that while there are certainly still obvious areas of blight, "the projects" are actually scattered throughout the cities, not condemned to one area where the occupants could litter up their own patch of dirt without infringing on the rest of us. They are camped right smack in the middle of a nicely kept neighborhood, like a big ugly bruise on an otherwise perfect apple. Hell, in Charleston, South Carolina, one of the most beautiful, historic cities I have ever seen, there is a low income housing development practically right around the block from the absolutely gorgeous and pristine Bay St, lined with colorful historic (and multiple million dollar) mansions. Why is this? Why are these housing developments, provided at such a low cost to its residents, so neglected, depressing, and bothersome to the eye?

Well, if you ask a few bleeding heart liberals that I know, they'll tell you that it's because "the man" doesn't keep up the buildings or the landscaping, and it creates a culture in the community where the residents don't have any pride in their surroundings. They'll tell you that the solution is to "invest" more time and energy (read: your tax dollars) into keeping the appearances of these segments of society up. That being said, they place the blame on the property owner for not constantly painting over the graffiti and picking up the piles of litter on the grass and sidewalks.

But, if you ask me (and let's pretend you did, because, after all, this is my blog, and you knew I was going to tell you anyway), the problem is with the residents themselves. They DECIDE to have no pride in their community. The DECIDE that if SOMEONE ELSE isn't going to plant/water flowers, tend a garden, pick up litter, keep an eye out for their neighbors, and for punks writing graffiti on the walls and signs, well then neither are they. Why should they, they figure. It's not "their" house, because they don't own it. They know that as tenants, they are not responsible for the maintenance of their unit, so they even will go as far as to not replace a burnt lightbulb on their own porch, or to fix a ripped screen that their own child damaged. They simply decide to take ZERO responsibility for the state of their own living environments. They refuse to break the cycle. They themselves decide that riding around in a Hummer with 24 inch chrome rims (paid for with all of them money they are saving by NOT paying for their own housing, health care, child care, or groceries) is more suited to them than spending some time making their community, the place where their children play, more attractive, appealing, and pleasant. They themselves choose to perpetuate the image that "the projects" are "ghetto", "hood", and "rough". And sadly, they seem to LIKE fostering that pitiful image, wanting to wear it like a badge of honor. If you don't believe me about that, watch a rap video. They love that image. They live for it.

Why should the landlord, or property management company, work to make the projects more pleasing to the eye? They know full well that if they do it, the residents won't respect it, won't appreciate it, and that it will likely be destroyed. So why bother?

Let me tell you that when my husband and I moved into our first house, the first thing that we did was make it a home. We planted flowers, put lights in the garden, stained the deck. We picked up litter that blew onto the yard. We painted the walls. We cut my grass (ok, we hired someone to cut my grass, but it achieved the same goal). We made our home pleasing to ourselves, and to our neighbors. Our neighbors would chat with us in the yards, admiring one another's efforts, happy with the state of our neighborhood, which was inarguably modest and working class. No one was forcing us to keep up our yards. We could have simply let the weeds take over the gardens, the trees and bushes grow wild, and left litter on the ground for "someone else" to pick up. But we didn't. We took pride in our homes, as a extension of ourselves. We CHOSE to keep our community attractive, bright, and welcoming.

This year, when the sign at the entrance to our current subdivision needed repainting, several residents got together and paid to have it done. What happened after that was infectious. What started as repainting a sign became updating the landscaping, trimming the brush, putting down fresh mulch and flowers, and placing new solar lights. The more we did, the more people wanted to do. And this was strictly voluntary: we don't have a Home Owner's Association mandating the collection of dues. This was simply a group of people who took an idea and ran with it. And the results are lovely. My husband goes and waters the flowers along that sign every evening, not because he HAS to, but because he WANTS TO.

So why doesn't someone living in those shitty projects decide to improve their environment? Plant a friggin' mum outside the door, hang a windchime and a hummingbird feeder, start a neighborhood watch. Be the CHANGE that they want to see in the world, instead of always wanting to put their hands out for CHANGE (forget that, they are after large bills at this point) from someone else's wallet. There is a reason why drug dealers like to hang around places like the projects: they know that no one is going to get involved to stop them, seeing as how they won't even get themselves involved with picking up trash in their own front yards. They are dirty, dingy segments of society, and so the dirty, dingy parts of society can easily blend in.

If you make your home look inviting, it changes your perspective. You are proud of it, of the work you did. You walk different. You hold your head up. You become vested in keeping it up, in keeping an eye out for problems in your area that might try to bring the community down, and that will reflect poorly on your own home. It works in other communities all across the country: why don't the residents of the projects give it a try? What are they waiting for?

Oh yeah-- They're waiting for SOMEONE ELSE to do it for them.

So, what's the solution? Well, if I ruled the world, it would be a sink or swim mentality, Darwinism at it's finest. Do for yourself or do without, plain and simple. Work for food or starve in the street, the choice being left up the each individual, and likewise, charity being left to the individual (rather than forced charity, i.e. welfare, through our tax appropriation). The projects will no longer be a free loaders haven, where women can birth litters of children without having to so much as look for work, and then raise those children to birth their own litters of babies. And then, maybe when these people have to exert some effort into their lives other than breathing, scratching and swallowing, perhaps they'll take the effort to improve the quality of their living environment, have some pride in the home in which they raise their children.

Until then, they'll live in filth. And I'll continue to drive by their scattered dumping grounds while on my way to the gym, the grocery store, or the community recreation center, and shake my head in disgust.

But I will feel no remorse for them.

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