Over the past year or so, I’ve scoured the web for stories related to housing, specifically public housing. In one way or another, most every story I read talked about the crime, drugs, violence, policing, disinvestment, demolition, crumbling infrastructures, disrepair, and on and on… On the other side of that, most articles go on to mention that, even though public housing has many issues, it continues to be an integral part of NYC, and has tremendous benefit and value. Language matters!!
I recently came across an article, “Why is America pulling down the projects?,” discussing the policy of demolition and one-to-one replacement of public housing made possible by the HOPE VI program. The program entails moving residents from their public housing community to mixed-development housing, which purports to be still be affordable. However, there have been studies that show this process of “revitalization” does not work well much of the time (depending on who does the study); often paving the way for gentrification. Many times, public housing developments are torn down and residents are simply removed from their homes and community and either don’t like the new housing or more often than not, are permanently displaced. The article began its discussion of this failed policy scattered with depressive accounts of the developments, the community, and its residents. The basic formula appears to be such that when writing about public housing you must preface with mentions of crime, drugs, poor people, disinvestment, and failure. These words, however, resonate with the people living in public housing and chip away at their pride and soul; knowingly or unknowingly. Unable to make any real headway into the halls of the bureaucracy that should heed their complaints, they often turn to each other to blame for what ails their individual developments.
The impact of this discouraging language, in regard to public housing communities, the residents, the program and its policies, has done little to influence local, state or federal officials to defend public housing. Subsequently, and with that in mind, let’s challenge writers on this topic to speak about the issues instead of the negative impact of the policies that created the conditions in the first place!