Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Not in HIS Backyard!

According to the story in the Gazette, a lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by Mark A. Toor and Allyn Turner against the Rae of Hope Fellowship, an East End women's shelter. The suit claims that residents of the shelter have created a nuisance and the plaintiffs are seeking to have it shut down.

There is more to this story than meets the eye. Much more.

If you have casually followed the story in the paper, you might know that Mr. Toor was the subject of a court order to stay off of the shelter's property. He also failed to appear in court in the matter and was fined $500.

So now Mr. Toor and his wife, both lawyers, have decided to escalate the fight and use their their legal expertise and contacts to try to force the shelter from its home.

Mr. Toor is a legal manager at Legal Aid, which makes it sound like he's one of the good guys. After all, Legal Aid is all about helping the poor, powerless and needy with legal assitance. It would follow that the people who work there are kind, compassionate souls who are altruistic in all their endeavors, right?
But a quick Google search reveals that Mr. Toor spent time laboring as a corporate attorney for coal industry interests. Turner works for the WV Coal Association. Not that makes them bad people, but in the culture of Left vs. Right we find ourselves living in where every person's actions are judged on where they stand ideologically and politically, it is interesting that the industry that is most often seen as the villian by West Virginian liberals is where these two lawyers made a lot of money. And now it seems they are showing their true Snidely Whiplash colors and foreclosing on the family farm because it has inconvenienced them.

If I were in charge of public relations or the Coal Association, I would not want these two employees pursuing this suit.

But this is really nothing new. All over the country there are examples of people, quite often lawyers, doing their dead-level best to get shelters, housing projects and social service agencies thrown out of their homes because they make neighborhoods less perfect. We can't have all of THOSE people milling about outside our Victorian fixer-upper when we have our wine and cheese receptions, can we? The concept is called NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard. Every housing agency and social service agency deals with it every day.

A few years ago, a friend shared with me this little parable he wrote. He intended to send it to the Charleston Gazette as an op-ed piece but decided against it because he knew it would ruffle too many feathers on City Council and he sometimes has to deal with them. So it has sat on my computer hard drive all these years waiting on a blog where it could be posted in anonymity. I thought about it as I read this story, and thought it's high time it was published:


Driving through Charleston's East End recently, I suddenly had an epiphany: There truly are too many social service agencies located in that area. Driving past Sojourner's I realized what a horrible shame it is that we have taken a perfectly good old building and have turned it into the eyesore that it is. Just think, if we had left it alone the 1500 block of Washington be a much more historical-looking neighborhood - just like the 1600 and 1700 blocks.

Yes! History! That's what we should strive for! As the buildings
begin to rot away we should rebuild them to original standards, using as much lead-based paint and asbestos as we can lay our hands on! We should make any new residential buildings in the area three or four thousand square feet with 10 foot tall ceilings. Of course, all of this cubic feet would require more energy, but it's a small price to pay. After all, we're talking history.

But I digress…

In the past few years I have noticed that City Council Persons from the West Side, from the East End, from North Charleston and South Hills, not to mention Kanawha City and the Elk River area (did I miss any?), have all expressed their resistance to having Social Service Agencies located in their wards. In so many community meetings I have attended I have heard these council representatives go to bat for their constituencies to keep "shelters", "soup kitchens" and other such pesky
organizations out of their neighborhoods. I have heard time and time again that social service agencies and their activities drive down real estate prices and drive up crime rates.

Social service agencies have their place, and surprisingly it's the only thing that everyone seems to agree on. The name of this place is "Somewherelse." I can't seem to find this place on any map, but
I know it exists because so many people agree that's where the social service agencies should be located. It sounds perfect, because from what people say about it no matter what you do there, property values will not be affected. Obviously inhabited by a very compassionate people, no one who lives in Somewherelse is bothered by the idea of poor people being visible in their neighborhood. The land must be very flat and the soil conditions must be ideal for construction, because according to the people who seem to know, anything can be built cheaper Somewherelse.

Affordable housing (which everyone knows is code for "low income housing projects") could be built very effectively in Somewherelse because that's where poor people want to live since it's close to all the social service agencies. Small, simple houses built with maintenance free exteriors like vinyl siding are simply not compatible with the historical look we want in our neighborhood, but it will fit in perfectly with a Somewherelse neighborhood.

As I said before, I don't know where Somewherelse is, so I haven't been there. But from what people say it sounds like everyone has enough to eat, everyone receives proper medical care, and everyone who gets sleepy at night has a place to sleep. Because there is job training and inexpensive housing being built by the non-profit builders that weren't allowed to build anywhere else, people can afford to own their homes making the neighborhood more stable. Sounds to me like a nice place to live; If you like that sort of thing.

I hope the citizenry of Somewherelse doesn't get fed up with every one else sending their poor and downtrodden to their community. If that happens, they might begin to resist the influx of social service agencies. The good news is that if that happens, we can always move them to Anotherplace.

Let's see…does anyone know where that is on the map?


Muze Euterpe said...

Unfortunately that is so very true. Many, many people feel that way.

It's a shame.

Wv Sky said...

Let's take a minute to forget about these "horrible coal company lawyers" and look at it from a common mans point of view:

I came from one of the poorest backgrounds in Charleston. I lived in alleys as a kid, because the houses facing the street were too expensive.

I managed to climb out of that environment over 35 years. I'm not in any way wealthy, but I invested every spare dime I had into a better property. Every time I purchased a new location to live, the government was right there, breathing down my neck with a new HUD project or shelter. I had to move 5 times before I lost my lifes savings. Those former properties are now worthless. I'm now (hopefully) in a location where I can die in peace, without worrying about losing all that I've worked for, and ultimately winding-up on the welfare doles like the ones I've escaped so far.

For a person who started out no better off than the people you feature in this blog, I have little sympathy. I DO have much sympathy for those who worked hard all their lives, only to be faced with the prospect of losing it due to government do-gooders. Some people cant understand why Charleston is being abandon for the suburbs. This is one of the reasons....

Charles said...

Well, first off, Rae of Hope are not "government do-gooders". It is a private non-profit.

But what you are saying supports the essay's premise: Many people think that social service agencies should never be located next to private property because it impacts the value of the property. The where should it be? We know how you feel about homeless people wandering the street or using the library. So where are they to go?

Oh wait, I know: They should get a job. I forgot who I was talking to.

Wv Sky said...

What happened to the YWCAs... the churches... the shelters in areas that WONT affect property values (like the one on Shrewsbury St, sitting in the exact location where I grew-up) We have LOTS of property available for these types of shelters that WONT impact the neighborhood in a negative way.

I can remember when buying property next door to a rental property wasn't that big of a deal. People knew how to behave many years ago. Now, people avoid living next to rental property (given the choice) because society no longer demands, and the authorities no longer enforce "the peace". So... it turns-out that the only thing worse than living next door to your 'average" rental property is most often the various shelters that groups thoughtlessly place throughout the city.

Ray said...

Perhaps they should combine all of these shelters and put them in an addition to the new library.
Then the bums can hang out at home.

The Film Geek said...

Real research shows property values don't typically decline with private, non-privates in the hood. They stay the same or actually increase somewhat due to the upkeep provided by the professional business.

It's people's attitudes and judgements that spiral downhill.

Wv Sky said...

Produce those stats. (Come on....)

I've never known ANY nice neighborhood to start out with "Model Shelter Homes" to increase the value of the property.

"Let me choice is to invest my hard earned money on property A: which is a single family neighborhood where people obviously take pride.. or B: A neighborhood with a shelter (maybe more) of some type within a two block area. Ummm... B! Yea, that makes sense because I want to show everyone how compassionate and understanding I am (no matter how much money I stand to lose or how much aggravation I'll be faced with down the road.

Charles said...

The data is out there, but probably not from any source you'd accept, Sky. Here's a report from an Iowa paper that gives a first hand account of what The Film Geek was saying:

Charles said...


Charles said...

I don't know why Blogger is truncating the link. Here is the entire url but you'll have to paste it together:

Wv Sky said...

Well... that's one towns "Spinners" opinion. I cant dispute what they're saying however because I'm not familiar with the property in question. Let's face it, if a part of town is HOT... a shelter may not have a huge impact. You could place a shelter on every corner in San Jose for instance.. and most wouldn't notice. But place one in an already fragile neighborhood like the East End... where only 2 blocks separate the well-off from the drug dealers, and those middle class families caught in the middle are the ones really affected. A shelter would not be something they could afford to take for granted.

The Film Geek said...

One town's spin...

Drive west along 3rd Avenue from 29th Street to the football stadium and you will pass at least five group homes run by private, non-profits. In one of the nicest neighborhoods in Huntington, the Highlawn area.

But you'll never know it.

No signs in the yard, no special nothing. Just homes that are well maintained and manicured.

Years ago, a private, non-profit bought the homes that were in serious need of repair. They upgraded the homes, increased their value and have been model neighbors since the late 80s and early 90s.

The property values of the entire neighborhood have increased because of it.

That kind of thing happens everywhere, not just in Huntington and Iowa. Yet the grumbling continues.

Wv Sky said...

I'm not familiar with that street, but if it's one of Huntington's famous wide boulevard style streets, then you cant compare that with the very close quarters that Charlestonians find themselves on their narrow streets.

Capcitykitty said...

The Rea of Hope is practically a showplace. The interior is spotless, the lawn beautifully landscaped.

I would think that a neighborhood would be more affected by a peeping Tom in its midst, than a house full of women intent on becoming well.

Anonymous said...

Both (all) sides can generalize and find a few examples to support their general arguments about the positives or negatives of shelters/group homes.

None of that is evidence of the facts of this particular case. Essentially, we have neighbors accusing each other of bad behavior. Either one, neither or both might be true in this case.

Without knowledge of the facts, all we have are people arguing in support of their general attitudes and assuming the facts in this case are probably in line with their preconceived biases.

The Film Geek said...

Actually, I made no mention of this particular case. It was, instead, the more general comments about running down property values I was addressing.

Anonymous said...

And the reality of that is sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Someone can provide an example of one or the other that has no bearing on the issue of what effect a different shelter or group home will have on the property values in its particular neighborhood at its particular time.

One can assume that if a non-profit takes its government grant money and private donations and renovates derelict houses in an aging mixed-use neighborhood that might have a net positive effect. By the same token, one can assume that placement in an entirely single family residential neighborhood will indeed deflate property values -- although the impact of just one might be exaggerated.

The East End would appear to be a prudent location for such things (aging housing stock, relatively low property values, mixed use, close to public transportation, shopping, heavily policed, etc.) and people considering buying property there should be aware of those factors. On the other hand, If you don't want such things next to you, you should be able to buy property somewhere where you can rely on it not happening-- although you might have to settle for for less house farther out of town.

I don't want a gas station or a convenience store or a power plant or a chemical plant or chicken farm or munitions factory or WalMart or a jail, prison or work release center or supervised group home for pedophiles or .... in my neighborhood and I'd bet a lot of people don't want them either. In fact there is at least one something that every person does not want next door.

It seems a bit hypocritical generally to condemn people for wanting to restrict usages in their neighborhoods unless you advocate a total lack of restrictions in your neighborhood. Otherwise it's just quibbling over where to draw lines and asserting what you like and draw the line to include makes you better than the people who don't like it and draw the line exclude it.