The Sept. 2008 edition of the Mt View Community Council newsletter contains a point-counterpoint between MVCC Vice President Hugh Wade and President Don Crandall, here excerpted:
Hugh: “The concentration of poverty, and the economics of that poverty, has essentially made our neighborhood popular for non-profits, such as Cook Inlet Housing, Cook Inlet Tribal Council and Chanlyut, Habitat for Humanity, Success By Six, RuralCap, Homeward Bound, etc. While each of these programs has its merits, the overall effect has been to reaffirm poverty rather than fight it, as they often involve giveaways and concentrations of citizens who are poor, dysfunctional, and criminal — all in the same neighborhood.
“Gentrification is not a nasty word, and from a resident’s perspective actually should be encouraged, as it would mean a more affluent neighborhood, with more upstanding citizens around and a lot less no accounts, sex offenders, drug and alcohol abusers, prostitutes and crimimals of all types.”
Don: “We do the most ambitious community clean-up in Anchorage, we have the original community patrol, we are blessed with grant programs such as Mt View Weed and Seed, we are in the process of having eight percent of our housing stock replaced by Cook Inlet Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity, we have extra policing this year, we have refurbished Mt View drive, we have the Natural History Museum, we have our new library, we have our forthcoming community art center, we’re getting a bank, we have better mobility with the Glenn-Bragaw project, we have Anchorage Community Land Trust supporting our community efforts, we have our own job center, we have two elementary schools which have been rated as Distinguished Title I schools in the past seven years, we have a brand new middle school going up, and we have you, the reader of this newsletter.”
Don has refuted Hugh’s points in the past, and Don believes strongly in the positive accomplishments of CIHA and HFH and the way they’ve changed the outward appearance of the neighborhood.
I worked with both of them on MVCC committee work and I was the MVCC VP during Hugh’s first term as president in ’05-’06. I have great respect for both of their views, and in many ways they are both correct. I know that Don is not suggesting that success on some fronts should justify allowing agencies to perform an ultimate disservice to Mt View in other ways.
In some respects other neighborhoods in Anchorage do share the burden [if I may call it that] of providing venues for nonprofit social services. Russian Jack, downtown and Fairview each contain significant facilities for corrections, treatment and transient housing, among other uses. In low income housing, Mt View has been historically overburdened, and the trend is to pack in more. I’ve written extensively here and other places about CIHA and HFH.
One of the main problems in my estimation is that, while CIHA and HFH’s efforts have been “sold” to longtime residents on the basis of “turning Mt View into a neighborhood of choice” [and other appealing platitudes] it really does not work that way at all. The Faustian bargain that owner-occupants of CIHA and HFH houses make really goes something like this:
1. The good news is, we can qualify you to own a home and you can afford to pay for it.
2. The bad news is it is located in Mt View.
This is not to suggest that the experience is bad, once the deal is made. Many of CIHA’s and HFH’s clients enjoy living here, once they’re in and will be likely to stick around for all of the same reasons those of us who bought into Mt View unassisted choose to remain. But it tends to keep the 80-90 percent of housing here not owned by nonprofits at a depressed level, primarily because the outside view of the neighborhood is that it’s an enclave of low-income housing and thus not desirable.
Less pressing but still problematic is that sometimes owner-tenants, as first time homeowners don’t rise to the occasion. CIHA runs a tighter ship than HFH [but its houses are more expensive], and some occupants of HFH houses have not been especially good stewards of the properties. It’s not an unsolvable problem, but it does drag down the rest of the neighborhood. Take a look at the three or four worst maintained HFH houses in Mt View and try to imagine them in Turnagain or Inlet View.
One obvious improvement that could be made would be to eliminate income guidelines as a prerequisite, or at the very least structure the programs so that owner/tenants would not have to pay a penalty if their income increases after they move in. Another would be to support renovations of existing housing, with direct design and construction assistance to property owners. One of my biggest gripes with CIHA’s approach is their complete disdain for any existing structure. The result has been a huge loss of the neighborhood’s significant character of distinctive, unique smaller homes on lots with fully developed landscaping. There’s really no good reason for this. One of the greatest assets of Mt View is that the houses until around 2002 or so were ridiculously cheap, and many here have realized the ultimate American dream of paying off their mortgage. That has to strongly contribute to the viability and image and stability of a place, and to its future prospects.
The revolutionary urban planning writer Jane Jacobs in 1962 made a strong case for income diversity in neighborhoods in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She gave examples of neighborhoods where the conditions were very similar to Mt View that had ‘un-slummed’ themselves. According to Jacobs, a key aspect to being able to lay the groundwork for revitalization is the availability of housing in a wide variety of sizes and conditions and price, that is underpriced and undervalued compared to the city at large. And it must be readily available, without strings attached such as income guidelines and long term contracts, so the buyers may realize gains in equity at the earliest possible time. She goes on to describe what happens next, including the pitfalls and false starts and contrasts it to less successful initiatives where the owner-tenants had fewer options and choice.