Our Eyes Were Opened


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Hidden Voices (Part 5 in a series)

If we were watching live theater now, we’d see a crowd behind a scrim mumbling softly and then getting louder and louder. In the wings, we would hear the sound of buildings coming down and new construction going up. We’d hear the crash of metal against metal and the constant beep-beep-beep of vehicles backing up to deliver their materials to the construction sites.

The voices behind the scrim are the voices of people whose homes are being taken away. The communities where they have lived for decades are now prime real estate for people who had no use for their neighborhoods previously. The old neighborhoods, often segregation neighborhoods, were seen as blights in our community. Some of us knew not to go into “those areas.” Now, however, those same neighborhoods are hot commodities. Now people with resources want to live near the inner city. Former segregation neighborhoods are being gentrified and houses are being flipped.

People who have been long-time residents in some of the neighborhoods are being pushed out because the home they have rented for years has just been sold to a developer who most likely with tear down the home and replace it with high end properties. Whereas the long-time residents paid less than $500 a month for a place which may have had some construction and plumbing issues, the new buildings on the sites start with rents of $1000, $1250, $2500. When your home is taken from you, where do you go? You lose your neighborhood contacts and you cannot find rent at the same level as your long-time home. Or you cannot sign a long-term lease because you have a criminal record or poor credit or mental illness or spotty income, and so you cannot find a landlord who will rent to you. Even if you own your home, you may be forced out of the neighborhood because the property values have gone up so high that you can no longer afford your property taxes. Or you were offered $50,000 cash which sounds like a lot of money if you’ve struggled your entire life. But then you discover that your home is torn down and a house worth $500,000 is now in its place. You hung in when your neighborhood was a place that people with resources did not want. And now when they do, you do not reap any of its rewards in any kind of just way.

People who have had little, who have learned to live with their heads kept low, who have had promises made and broken by people in power learn that their voices are hidden. They are invisible, unseen, until someone wants what they have.

The people whose voices are hidden and are about to lose their homes do not even realize that for decades people with resources have been living in subsidized housing. The bigger the mortgage, the larger the tax deduction. Buying a home is a huge government subsidy that people with resources enjoy. In 2015, the federal government spent $71 billion on the mortgage interest deduction with households earning more than $100,000 receiving almost 90 percent of those benefits. However, 60 percent of people who use the deduction say they have never used any government program. But let someone who is financially challenged ask for a housing subsidy and all kinds of negative comments float up. They’re lazy, they’re just out for what they can get, I worked for mine, why can’t they work for theirs?

Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer prize winning author of Evicted and who was here this past spring writes, “a 15-story public housing tower and a mortgaged suburban home are both government-subsidized, but only one looks (and feels) that way.”

We are 2500 housing units short for people who can pay no more than $500 a month.  Whose voices are hidden?

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Hidden Voices

We will not, do not, or cannot hear the voices that are hidden in our community.

We will not…hear hidden voices

We stay within the confines of people more or less like us. We live in neighborhoods with people who are more or less like us. We work with people who think more or less like we do. We worship with people who are educated more or less like we are. Our income levels are more or less alike.

We tend to remain with people whose fund of knowledge is similar to ours. Our fund of knowledge grows from our gender, our age, our socieoeconomic status, our education level, our experiences of the broader world, our race, our faith perspective and a host of other things. We often believe that our fund of knowledge is the only one that’s valid.  We will not hear hidden voices.

We do not… hear hidden voices.

We do not want to hear hidden voices. We are busy enough with career or retirement, caring for kids, grandchildren, or ailing parents. We struggle with our own limited world of influence and certainly do not want to be disturbed by issues beyond our control. We want to remain in our own bubble. We like our blinders of our skin color, our privilege of power or prestige, or our position in society. We prefer that hidden voices remain hidden. Otherwise we might feel uncomfortable and we do not want that! We do not hear hidden voices.

We cannothear hidden voices.

We are stressed already with the problems of the world. We are overwhelmed with all our responsibilities in our home, our community, our church, our work, or our neighborhood. We may be going through a divorce, grieving the loss of a loved one, struggling with health issues, or facing financial challenges ourselves. We do good to crawl out of bed in the morning and plow through the day. We simply cannot take on any more. Our bandwidth is taxed heavily right now. We cannot hear hidden voices.

But there are hidden voices in our community. During my next few posts, I’ll share some of those.


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Gentrifying vs. Gentle-fying

Gentrifying: House is purchased for income building
Gentle-fying: House is purchased for neighborhood building
Gentrifying: Security is based on locks, gates, and systems
Gentle-fying: Security is based on friendships and watching out for each other
Gentrifying: Long-time residents may not be welcome
Gentle-fying: Long-time residents are cherished
Gentrifying: Diversity is threatening
Gentle-fying: Diversity is cherished
Gentrifying: My way is the right way
Gentle-fying: Our way is the right way
Gentrifying: The past is obscured as not important
Gentle-fying: The past is celebrated as part of the heritage
Gentrifying: Us vs. Them
Gentle-fying: It’s all Us