Easy Money in the City

easy money in springfield, maFinally a new state program comes to Springfield aimed at helping market-rate housing developers re-establish a foothold in this long-suffering city.

For years, all the political talk has been about increasing low-income housing, providing vouchers, and giving the region’s poorest a seat at Springfield’s sparse dinner table.

Decades of this mindset has resulted in Springfield’s already struggling local economy having to heft a large portion of residents who neither work nor pay taxes. A poverty rate that once stood in single digits hovers at around 26% these days, as people from miles around come to Springfield not for its employment opportunities, but rather its cheap housing and easy access to social services.

Starting in about the 1980s, entire communities in Springfield began their slow but inexorable transformation into low-income ghettos, where shops today do business with bars on their windows and only the most naive would go out for a stroll after dark.

The original plan for Section-8 housing vouchers was to place poorer – and decidedly less-optimistic – residents in with middle-income residents, where it was hoped such exposure to a more upscale standard of living would have a positive impact.

But that plan quickly deteriorated as politicians saw easy votes in their eyes and began passing out vouchers like candy to children, and voucher recipients first began getting packed into large apartment complexes (“warehousing”) and then later – as the city’s multi-family homes began to be bought up by absentee landlords – inundating the city’s former home-owned residential neighborhoods.

In less than forty years, Springfield went from a “Can-Do” city to a “Can-You-Do-It-For-Me?” city, where many residents today routinely asked not what they could do for their city, but what can their city do for them.

Not much, it turns out.

Springfield continues to hang on the bleeding edge of bankruptcy, with tax hikes on what is left of the city’s homeowners and small businesses the only seeming way to keep the city above water. The City Council last year even co-opted the trash fee – which used to be in place to raise revenue to help pay for the city’s trash service, but now also helps to pay for the city’s struggling library system, which itself has been on life support for over twenty years and simply cannot continue into the 21st century with the same mid-20th century mindset it’s been running on – even as activists and soft-hearted city officials insist that it should.

And then of course we have that $800 million elephant that is looking all the more like it’s about to land squarely on your crotch. City officials are swooning over how great things will be once we get a “casino resort” erected in the heart of the city’s ghetto-ized downtown. We’ll apparently have none of the problems every other city on earth has had with casinos in their midst. Springfield, you see, is different.

The fact that this mindset flies square in the face of a preponderance of evidence that shows otherwise doesn’t appear to bother our local leaders in the slightest, either. After all, they have their own futures to think about.

I once thought it would be great for Springfield to have an arts-based economy. What a fool I was. Really, what city official is ever going to make a dime painting landscapes? It used to be that our distinguished municipal hacks found jobs working for the state, thus padding their already-generous government pensions. Now they’ll be working for The Man at MGM (or Penn). That’s where the real payoff will be.

And then, ten or so years from now when our casino masters pull up their stakes and move on, we’ll be left with a vacant hulk in our midst and wondering to ourselves – forty years after the Baystate West fiasco – how the hell did we fall for it again?

Well, at least maybe we’ll have some spiffy-new market-rate housing projects to show off to our kids.

If, somehow, our fearless leaders don’t manage to transform that one into a state-funded cash cow, too.

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5 Responses to Easy Money in the City

  1. Bill, do you think there’s a demand for market-rate housing downtown? And how would a casino affect that demand?

    M. Turner
    January 30, 2013 at 3:02 pm

  2. Hi Mo,

    Yes I believe there is a demand for market-rate housing downtown. I think Classical High Condos and Stockbridge Court are evidence of this.

    Whether or not a casino will be good or bad for market-rate housing is not so clear, though. On the one hand, I can see casino employees living downtown and walking to work. On the other hand, I might also ask why anyone who could afford to live any place else would want to live right next to a casino (with all the noise, traffic, crime, etc.).

    Bill D.
    January 30, 2013 at 4:19 pm

  3. We saw this coming with the ”
    Longhill” business. When you lose balance it is so hard to try to recoup…I will say if and a big”if”we had some university influence plus arts(civilized behavior)) it could be done..chances are nil to slim

    January 30, 2013 at 10:56 pm

  4. I just wanted to quickly add: Even if market-rate housing does not work in downtown Springfield (or the inner-city residential neighborhoods), that doesn’t mean we should just alternatively go with low-income housing projects. Springfield is not going to alleviate its poverty rate problem by adding to it. Fix up pre-existing housing, of course. But don’t build MORE housing here. Springfield should not be the designated destination for the region’s – or the country’s – poor. Let other city’s take responsibility for their own residents. Most of the city’s poorest residents did not live here even 20 years ago (1993). They moved here afterward – and they didn’t come here because of the terrific job opportunities, either.

    Bill Dusty
    January 31, 2013 at 9:59 am

  5. You are so right …the greed of the government dollar influenced the wrong attitude. Nothing works without balance.

    February 1, 2013 at 11:30 pm