There’s an old saying, “one bad apple spoils the bunch.” There are other versions of this proverb that expand on this concept to end on a more positive note. But in reality, more often than not, when you are dealing in community, one bad apple can definitely spoil the bunch. In this scenario, the bad apple can be any combination of rude, selfish, defiant, or downright uncivil residents, while the bunch is “everybody else.” I am perpetually perplexed at how many abiding residents bear witness to the few who, without consequence, are able to sabatoge an entire public housing development. Residents often turn a blind-eye or feel hopeless because the cops won’t show up and there is no real follow up on complaints. The seriousness of this “bad apple” syndrom is how far it can climb the ladder. The “bad apple” becomes this is a bad place with bad people; that turns into bad policy and bad decisions based on the actions of one bad apple. Many public housing residents actually feel good about their community despite the need to navigate the negative aspects on a daily basis. Nonetheless, many of the (in)famous housing developments in the U.S. have fallen prey to what had to have started with just one or two bad apples.
The dismantling of many housing developments was due in large part to issues dealing with crumbling infrastructure and government disinvestment; however the uncivilized residents who dealt drugs, and engaged in violence and crime also played a big part in how these developments were perceived. The blame was placed squarely at the feet of the more visible social ills, while the true nature, structural racism and neglect, went undetected for decades. We are now beginning to hear more case studies, reports and articles on how the government was responsible for creating the conditions that led to the demise of the much-needed public housing developments throughout the country.
We are now at the crossroads of a shortage of affordable housing and a rise in the need for more public housing. More and more people claim that affordable housing is not affordable, while our Mayor looks for more spaces to place unsheltered residents and reduce the numbers in the city’s shelters. New York is a rare place and it is the one city where the traditional public housing stock still remains. There is good here. But we must find a progressive way to deal with the rule breakers. There used to be a screening process in place to assure that people who moved in were good, decent families. Our current family structures have changed, there are more women-headed households, while the majority of the “nonsense” that occurs in public housing is bad behavior by the men in the developments. Personally, I find it unfair that women are left to deal with the problems that plague these developments while also having to create community and form support networks in an effort to navigate the scare resources available in public housing communities. NYCHA has enough to deal with in terms of capital and operating expenses, but they need to find an effective way to deal with the quality of life issues that plague their developments and make it hard for people to live there, all because of “one bad apple.”