By John Hubbuch
So Wednesday night there was a public meeting at the library to discuss the Interfaith Housing Development's proposal to convert the abandoned Comcast Building at Madison and Oak Park into 51 apartments for people who earn less than $26,400. Click here to read Wednesday Journal's coverage of the meeting. These folks are known as 'the working poor.' That works out to full time work at $13.25/hour. Just as sure as Jay Cutler will be sacked, the predictable battle lines were drawn. The developer, which in this case is a non-profit with a worthy mission, makes a first proposal that is long on good intentions, but a little short on detail. Most of the neighbors oppose the project. The community then sides with the do-gooders because it makes them feel good that they live in a community that supports helping the working poor.
It's easy to demonize the Not In My Back Yard Neighbors (NIMBY) in these contretemps, but though they may be prejudiced and guilty of stereotyping, so is everybody. If the working poor are kids trying to move out of their parent's home or an Iraq war vet returning home, I'm all for him, but if he's an ex-con or gang-banger trying to get back into society, I'm not so enthusiastic. Hey, even some of the Joads committed crime out of economic necessity. The same arguably irrational prejudice that causes me to cross the street to avoid congregated black youth, or think twice about a stroll in Columbus Park is at work here.
Try this thought experiment: the Comcast conversion takes place and the 51 apartments are filled with the low-income tenants. Now you are looking to move within Oak Park and your realtor is showing you houses and it's down to one on the same block as the old Comcast Building and another one far away. You do your little chart of plusses and minuses. Is the fact that one of your final two is next to a low-income project a plus or a minus? Be honest. That's what I'm talking about.