A blast from the past

No time to blog, but here's something I found while idly wandering through a past blog page. It was on one of my 'secret blog pages', so only about three people have read it prior to this, I believe.

October 30 2002

Nobody likes poor people.

The largest part of my current job -- a temp assignment that has been going on for two years now -- is typing City Council minutes. That means I sit at a computer and listen to the tapes of City Council meetings, and then boil all that stuff down to a few paragraphs of standard boilerplate like 'There was a brief discussion amongst Council regarding the best way to quietly exterminate Tampa's homeless population and sell their bodies to medical science, after which the following action was taken:

Motion: (Kervorkian-Himmler) That the Legal Department be directed to prepare a Special Ordinance implementing a Special Policy towards Tampa's homeless population. Motion carried.'

Yeah, I'm being very heavily ironic. Our City Council prefers to simply ignore the homeless (even when they're insisting on coming to Council and directly addressing Council asking for help), and they'd never go on the record with a motion like that.

Yet other stuff does go on the record. For example:

Last week our Mayor got up in front of Council and extolled the virtues, once more, of his major redevelopment plan for downtown. One of the big things Mayor Greco, along with our City Council, has been trying to do for most of a decade is get people to live downtown. They regard a stable residential base in the downtown area as the key driver to an economic resurgence there... if there are people living there, then businesses will move into downtown to service that population, which makes the rents go up, which raises the tax base, and, you know, All Will Be Well.

But, as I said at the top, nobody likes poor people, and one can never see that more clearly than when Dick Greco and Tampa's City Council are talking... nay, True Believer, practically salivating... into microphones on the record about their plans for redeveloping downtown with new residential projects.

One of Dick Greco's favorite phrases when he talks about this stuff is 'market price'. Another is 'market driven'. In modern day American politicalese this basically translates as 'this will not be low income housing, folks'.

'Market price', in Tampa's burgeoning yuppie real estate market, means a several thousand s.f. housing unit priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It does not mean apartments, regardless of how gated or exclusive or lease restricted those apartments might be, because ultimately, renters do not pay the same sort of property taxes as homeowners, and anyway, no matter how hard you try, you can never be sure you're going to keep the shiftless element entirely out of transitory housing. No, this means condos, whose prices will start around $110,000, and scale upward from there to the half million dollar range.

In other words, Tampa doesn't want any poor people living downtown.

In point of fact, Tampa doesn't want any poor people living within its city limits, period. Given its druthers, Tampa (or its ruling elite, elected and non-elected, anyway) would really prefer that everyone living in Tampa own real estate, rather than rent it, drive Jaguars and BMWs rather than riding the bus, and eat all their meals in expensive restaurants, rather than fast food places or, god forbid, actually staying home to cook.

Tampa understands that it needs the poor to wash the dishes and bus the tables in its fancy restaurants, to wax and detail its Jaguars and BMWs, and to man the counters at its countless filling stations, and will grudgingly admit that there are a great many other jobs out there in the service area that Tampa's preferred residential base would never want to do that the poor are just made for, but if Tampa had its way, all the poor would live over in Brandon or Riverside and they'd all carpool to work in rented Volkswagon vans... or they'd ride on a bus system fully subsidized by the fare box (so the affluent class wouldn't have to be vexed by having their taxes diverted into something they themselves wouldn't be caught dead using), and if that meant that the average minimum wage worker in Tampa was paying $11 a day to get to and from work, well, shit, that's just a little less money they can spend on illegal drugs, right?

Admittedly, there's another layer to all this that those who don't live here in the New South will need to have explicated. Down here, you can't simply talk about income brackets... or rather, you can, and you do, but that's not all you're talking about. When Tampa's Mayor and Tampa's City Council smile and nod like bobble-head dolls at a proposal to create 'market price' residential space in downtown, they're not simply subtly saying 'we don't want no PO' FOLKS down here', what they're actually saying is, 'we don't want no BLACK FOLKS down here'.

It's a bit more complex than that, I grant you. These days, 'BLACK FOLKS' also includes most brown folks, regardless of actual ethnicity. And, of course, it's not ENTIRELY racist, because white folks who can't afford to mortgage a $125,000 condo are also clearly excluded (that would be me) while black & brown folks who have, somehow, managed to put together enough scratch to make those kind of monthly payments are certainly welcome.

(That last may not actually be true; oddly, black and brown folks, even when they have good jobs and good credit ratings, seem to have difficulty finding mortgage providers down here in the New South. And they also often have trouble with the Local Civic Association Application Process. Whereas I, if I could only come across a suitcase stuffed with illicit drug money, could buy any house anywhere in Tampa with no questions asked, and the local Civic Associations would bake me a cake, too.)

Everybody hates the poor, but no one wants to do anything about poverty. Better jobs at better wages? Educational opportunity? Vocational training? Accessible, livable, affordable housing near the better jobs? Decent public transportation for those who can't afford to keep cars on the road? Fuck that noise, that shit costs the working taxpayer money! Buy a fuckin' Lotto ticket like everyone else, you loser, and in the meantime, cook me my damned McNuggets and shut the hell up.

Of course it's much more complex than this. Our current model of government on every level is one that seeks to 'partner' with private industry. In this particular case, the major financial backer of the downtown renovation is Bank of America, and it's nice of them to step up, too. Yet you can't expect a corporate entity like Bank of America to pony up millions of dollars in investment fees if they're not going to make a healthy profit somewhere down the road, and therefore, it goes without saying that any kind of new commercial development space, be it residential, office, industrial or retail, is going to be at 'market price'.

This is the problem that occurs when government becomes a 'partner' with private enterprise. Profit becomes the major driver, and there is no actual profit in helping people. No one in their right mind wants to market housing to the poor. (In fact, down here, no affluent businessman wants to market anything to the poor. People would far rather have 1 affluent client/customer than 100 poor clients/customers, because the affluent fellow is better behaved.)

Government is not supposed to be about making profits, it's supposed to be about making the world a better place for its entire constituency... or, at least, the majority of its constituency. Yet as long as government continues to give tax breaks to its wealthiest constituents, it will continue to be cash strapped; as long as it continues to be cash strapped it will continue to have to 'partner' with private industry to get anything done, and as long as it has to partner with private industry, its programs and products will end up primarily benefitting the affluent who aren't paying much in the way of taxes to start with.

(What the affluent are paying for, in the end, is the condos that the government has brokered the deal to put up in the downtown area in the first place. However, in the meantime, the poor, who aren't going to get to live downtown, are the primary payers of the salaries of the government folks who are putting in 60 hour work weeks brokering these deals, that will revitalize a downtown that most of the taxpayers won't ever get to actually reside in, or in any way benefit from.)

Government needs to stop partnering with the affluent and start taxing the living fuck out of them... and then building people like me some affordable apartments, and funding a decent public transit system, and jacking up the minimum wage, and implementing a workable universal health care system.

Of course, none of this is going to happen any time soon, but it's not my fault. I voted for Ralph.

* * * *

Heh. Yes. A registered Florida voter, and yes, I did vote for Ralph Nader in the 2000 elections. So, yes, it's all MY fault. And you people thought I was powerless...

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