9/08/2007

Lessons from Youngstown...

fixBuffalo readers have been following the emerging Shrinking Cities critique and very intelligent right-sizing and green strategies of another devasted rustbelt city - Youngstown, OH. Eariler today a frequent fixBuffalo visitor passed along the following article - Small is Beautiful , Again - from a recent issue of Shelterforce Online.

No community developer likes to be told that the housing she just built was "not doing anybody a favor." But that's what Jay Williams, the young, incredibly popular mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, said to Governing magazine last fall about much of the low-income tax-credit housing built in his city over the past decade.

Williams is not anti-affordable housing. But Youngstown has lost more than half its population since 1970, dropping to 82,000 from 170,000. Some neighborhoods have only a couple of occupied buildings left per block. Others are semi-rural, never having gotten expected development before the collapse of the area's steel industry depressed the local economy. In the mid-20th century...read the rest...
Sound familiar? I know, everything but the leadership. So it goes...

Shelterforce Online is published by the National Housing Institute.
Shelterforce is the nation's oldest continually-published housing and community development magazine. For three decades, Shelterforce has been a primary forum for organizers, activists and advocates in the affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization movements.
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4 comments:

b said...

No community developer likes to be told that the housing she just built was "not doing anybody a favor." But that's what Jay Williams, the young, incredibly popular mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, said to Governing magazine last fall about much of the low-income tax-credit housing built in his city over the past decade.

Ok, good blurb for sure. Another one from that same article is:
The housing market is weak enough that Youngstown's chief planner, Anthony Kobak, notes that many in the city have said building a new house just produces an abandoned building elsewhere in the city.


The whole article is interesting.

Many of the elites and feeling-based citizens in this city just don't get it that our population has fallen and it can't get up. The choice is between smarter shrinkage and dumber shrinkage.

Fix Buffalo does a great job at bringing these issues to people's attention.

However...
could somebody here please explain to us non-artists why it is that adding several dozen new units of low-income tax-credit housing in a fast-shrinking part of a fast-shrinking city is a great idea if and only if these new taxpayer-subsidized units are reserved for "artists only"... but generally you would otherwise say it's a very bad idea?

To the layman this might sound a little inconsistent, no?

How is it that in the big picture it's an unwise use of tax money to subsidize creation and upkeep of new housing units for the woman who bakes pizzas at Delta Sonic and the man who cleans rental cars at Enterprise, but it's a smart use of tax money if the tenants are artists?

Why not provide housing voucher subsidies for artists to live in existing housing on some currently vacant block?

Why is it smart to spend tax money to help create new housing units in a formerly commercial property?

Anonymous said...

well generally i think its good to offer housing assistance for everyone in general. but to address the artist specific question. artists have specific needs that are not usually met by traditional housing, these include ventilation, high ceilings, natural light, soundproofing, and others. artists generally move into industrial or less-desirable areas and fix them up. however, they usually get displaced or out-priced on their rent after they've done all of the work to improve the area. its smart to spend tax money on these spaces, because commercial spaces often already have the framework to fit an artist's needs. it also helps claim a building that is not being put to use instead of building a lot of new construction. as many cities enter a post-industrial era they are left with large vacant warehouses and sometimes a shortage of housing. these projects can remedy both situations.

b said...

from Anon 2:13 - artists have specific needs that are not usually met by traditional housing, these include ventilation, high ceilings, natural light, soundproofing, and others.

Thanks for answer, but a lot of traditional housing I've lived in or visited does have a decent amount of natural light.

Wonder what percent of Artspace residents "need" special ventilation, high ceilings, soundproofing, and "other needs" that could not have been met by some already-exisitng housing units in Buffalo for which housing vouchers could pay for without adding new residential units and triggering the shell game (or musical chairs, whatever you want to call it) of creating vacancies elsewhere.

Yes it made use of a vacant commercial bulding but it also used tax dollars to create quite a few new housing units in a shrinking high-vacancy urban area which was exactly what the referenced article about Youngstown was arguing against.

Just seems perhaps contradictory to be celebrating a concept when it's used to benefit the beautiful creative special low-income people and argue so strongly against it (with good reason) in the more general case for ordinary low-income people.

No doubt many people of varying jobs have desires for stuff like soundproofing or "other needs" but it doesn't seem those desires are used as arguments for creating new taxpayer-subsidised housing units for them.

But hey, maybe I'm missing something about this.

Also from 2:13 -- ...as many cities enter a post-industrial era they are left with large vacant warehouses and sometimes a shortage of housing.

We are told over and over that Buffalo does not have a shortage of housing, but rather has a big surplus.

MJ said...

We do have a surplus. And it makes no sence to keep this surplus spread out over the entire area of Buffalo. I think Land Banking needs to be done. Target blocks and neighborhoods to totally remove and return to empty land for future use. Concentrate new builds and renovations in an area tight to the DT core to make city services more efficient.

I've said in other posts, not everyone is looking for 8'x10' bedrooms and a 15'x15' back yard. There are people who desire new housing and the city should find a way to lure these people into a new neighborhood on the near east side. At the same time it is an opportunity to create a new urban enviroment, something I think that is being missed.

I do feel these need to be concentrated in one area and not be spread out as infill. I don't think there is much hope of retaining a good portion of thier value unless they are surrounded by a neighborhood of similar new builds along with some selective remodels of significant older houses.

A good portion of this city does not need to be used at this time. Drive down some side streets off Broadway between Memorial Dr and Baily. The streets are still full of housing stock, but only 3-4 houses are actually being lived in. The rest are burnouts or boarded. Home owners in areas like this should be given incentive to move closer to the core in new or rehabbed housing and the rest of the area targeted for demolition: remove streets, utilities, etc.

As for the artists, this is a great anchor for the near east side and trying to tie it in to the much better off west side of Main St. But here needs to be a plan of action for the surrounding neighborhood and it needs to be acted on. We have yet to see that.