At yesterday's Southern Indiana Realtors Association candidate luncheon, which predictably was boycotted by New Albany's hermetic and curtained Jeff Gahan, I was pleased that the general topic of "ordinance enforcement" formed part of one question to each candidate.
There were two candidates present from Jeffersonville, Salem and New Albany. The incumbent Charlestown mayor's opponent had a prior commitment, as did Gahan: Oz was flossing, and couldn't be bothered.
Six of the seven mayoral candidates present yesterday expressed a preference for "small government," and as this construct might pertain to ordinances, they preferred to praise what's already on the books rather than contemplate disagreeing with Pat Harrison on rental property registrations in a room filled with real estate professionals, and dare be seen advocating a dreaded "new layer" of intrusive government.
But what if the layers we already have are actively exclusionary or simply outdated?
I was the only candidate present who chose to make this the basis of his answer. Yes, it's true that if New Albany enjoyed a long history of excellence in enforcing its own rule book, we might not be having a chat about rental property registration, but we have not, and because we have not, rental property abuses have become a full-blown concern embracing public health, safety and basic human rights.
Those must be addressed, and so I answered Harrison's question by saying that I'm completely in favor of rental property registration and inspection, with a fee structure to support the same.
Credit Kevin Zurschmiede for noting that tenants as well as owners must be aware of rights and responsibilities, though given the historic tendency of ownership to zealously protect its worse apples rather than be pro-active in weeding them out, how can these rights and responsibilities be applied and maintained without government participation?
Zurschmiede also mentioned that he moved from his Elm Street home because the state of the neighborhood precluded the enjoyment of his property, which is a right recognized by all realtors.
At least he was able to move. Those with lower incomes living nearby might well not be the cause of the problems -- and not be able to leave, either.
Reverence for existing laws becomes somewhat comical when one considers that New Albany still has a law on its books governing "cruising" behavior at the Frisch's on Spring Street, which has been gone so long that "cruising" now means something entirely different -- except when adopted by Harvest Homecoming as a parade theme.
Then there are topics like planning and zoning. Consider this, as buried in a newspaper account of city council budget hearings.
Scott Wood, director of the New Albany Planning Commission, said he’s hopeful the department can begin work on a new comprehensive plan this year. The current plan was approved in 1999.
Wood labeled it a “relic” in need of refreshing.
“Typically those are updated every five years, more like seven-and-a-half to 10, so we’re pretty far behind right now,” Wood said.
The candidate luncheon was held at Elk Run Golf Club, and the outdated nature of New Albany's comprehensive plan is par for the course. How archaic is 1999? As a point of comparison, mobile phone cameras came to America in 2002.
Finally, zoning. I was the only candidate in attendance yesterday who said the words "exclusionary zoning" aloud.
One of the best ways to fight inequality in cities: zoning, by Daniel Hertz (Washington Post)
... For years, activists and researchers have known that restrictive zoning is among the most powerful forces behind racial and economic segregation in the country.
This is for two reasons. First, in many neighborhoods, zoning laws prevent the construction of low-cost housing by, for example, allowing only single-family homes instead of apartments. Second, zoning laws restrict the total amount of housing that can exist in any given area, which means that wherever well-to-do people decide to move, they will bid up the price of housing until it’s out of range of everyone else. Imagine, for example, if there were a law that only 1,000 cars could be sold per year in all of New York. Those 1,000 cars would go to whoever could pay the most money for them, and chances are you and everyone you know would be out of luck.
I don't have a magic wand, and will not claim to know every answer. For instance, there is public housing, a perennial bugbear in New Albany politics.
People in New Albany who ask the question, "What are you going to do about The Project?" tend to be white, and want to see the problem solved by doing anything at all short of changing the fundamental paradigm from exclusionary warehousing of a segment of society, to perhaps advancing a level of opportunity borne of more egalitarian planning.
Meanwhile, people who live in The Project ask, "What are we going to do about affordable housing?" They tend to be African-American, and it's a very good question, isn't it?
If the overall gist of zoning laws already on the books is to keep The Project where it is, occupied by residents with few other options in a country already experiencing historic levels of income inequality, then it's likely they'll remain there. Isn't that how exclusionary zoning laws came into existence in the first place?
It is a mystery to me how an unregulated "free" market in slumlord rental properties addresses the affordable housing quandary, but this seems to have been New Albany's best answer during the past century.
That's inadequate, but even worse, throughout this and so many other discussions, New Albany never varies in the sense of refusing to have these discussions. Jeff Gahan's non-transparency is merely a malignant strain of what we've always been: Down Low on the Ohio.
While I'm at it, this article is instructive:
Where Black Lives Matter Began: Hurricane Katrina exposed our nation’s amazing tolerance for black pain, by Jamelle Bouie (Slate)
But there’s a problem with this capsule summary of Katrina and its place in national memory. It assumes a singular public of “Americans” who understand events in broadly similar ways. This public doesn’t exist. Instead, in the United States, we have multiple publics defined by a constellation of different boundaries: Geographic, religious, economic, ethnic, and racial. With regards to race, we have two dominant publics: A white one and a black one. Each of them saw Katrina in competing, mutually exclusive ways. And the disaster still haunts black political consciousness in ways that most white Americans have never been able to acknowledge.
White Americans saw the storm and its aftermath as a case of bad luck and unprecedented incompetence that spread its pain across the Gulf Coast regardless of race. This is the narrative you see in Landrieu’s words and, to some extent, Obama’s as well. To black Americans, however, this wasn’t an equal opportunity disaster. To them, it was confirmation of America’s indifference to black life. “We have an amazing tolerance for black pain,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson in an interview after the storm. Rev. Al Sharpton, also echoed the mood among many black Americans: “I feel that, if it was in another area, with another economic strata and racial makeup, that President Bush would have run out of Crawford a lot quicker and FEMA would have found its way in a lot sooner.” Even more blunt was rapper Kanye West, who famously told a live national television audience that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”