Thursday, May 14, 2015

Affordable Housing (For Chris Brown)

word: “affordable”
depends on average wages
(maybe it once did)

the word “affordable” does not
exist in a vacuum
and requires a holistic approach
considering employment as well as prices

If, for instance,
      The medium annual income
 of a neighborhood
is $38, 363
and a proposed housing unit
on the city’s public property
requires its residents to make
it clearly is not

But, in a global economy,
  where neighborhoods are negligible
  and blocks meant to be busted,
the word “affordable”
does not have to,
and in fact shouldn’t,
be measured
by the people
who currently live here
(even when they’ve lived here
for several generations)

To the ideal tenant,
the imagined millionaires--
so hungry to get here
but need a little helping hand—
to revitalize the city,
it’s very affordable

And while they keep the rent
At the low discount rate of
$3,100 a month
maybe one or two new folks
can be recruited
from the ranks of the $38 thousanders
who used to be called middle class
but are now the working poor…..
before the price goes up more
Ah, the American dream!

But the word “affordable”
despairs to the point of being suicidal,
bent out of shape, emptied
sick of the people speaking for it,
not letting it talk,

It misses its mommy
And its daddy
And grandma’s hands, and backyard
Back before the damn highways
Ripped the neighborhood apart
And all we got were these lousy projects
Subject to police terror
And Hud evictions if grandpa’s caregiver—
Unbeknownst to him—
Was caught with some coke.
That wasn’t what he and grandma fought for in the 50s and 60s!

Meanwhile, back in today
I gotta caress
The word “affordable”
Its need for a firmer definition
As I got a glimpse in the room
Where the developer tells of his plans for luxury condos
And the mayor responds
“call it affordable and we got a deal”

Someone’s banking on most people not looking
At the headlines
Which circulate, now, as fine print
In the era of click bait twitter titillation
and the ones who did being dressed up in media muzzles
(called ‘freedom of speech” on fakebook)

At a certain point, one has to ask the mayor:
Why do you want the rich here more than
the middle you now call poor?
A stupid question, no brainer. No doubt.
But beyond this:
How many rich do you want here?
How many rich do you think you can realistically lure here?
Do you see the new shiny revitalized Oakland
Stretching east past Coliseum City
To the heart of 98th Avenue?
Wouldn’t that be cool?

Just imagine the tax revenue
A city of 416,000 millionaires would have!
Just think of its well policed excuse for night-life!
You’d be the envy of so many other mayors
Like the city of my birth, Reading,
Voted the poorest city in America as of 2012
(while little brat Taylor Swift
runs around denying it)

Imagine all the poor people in Oakland
Will be able to afford
The new improved high-rent standards
Set by the luxury condo developers
And venture capitalists.
Maybe this could be better for everyone!

It would show, beyond the shadow
of a doubt, it would vindicate,
the higher wisdom of trickle down economics
over the pesky regulated economy
and hands outs of the New Deal and Great Society—
Yes, like a flood in which all boats can rise!
Manna from our Job Creator who art in heaven

But if you’re not going to regulate
this “market rate” housing,
you’d have to recalibrate wages
so that they finally keep pace
with inflation (that sneaky
way of offering a pay cut
to those you’re “officially” giving a raise to)
that sometimes goes by the name
of gentrification
when it’s not called land grab
or ethnic cleansing….

And if you could pull this
We could agree with you!!
We’d be your biggest champion!!
Your policies are doing exactly the opposite
Even if you deny that racism
(and, yes, economic racism)
has anything to do
with the 47% black population
dwindling to 25%
and falling even lower
through that wide gulf
in the social safety net…

We need—
          more than ever—
you, oh mayor
to step in and protect us
           from the wage-cost-of-living discrepancy
that creates the wealth gap,

and work on both fronts—
salary caps for greedy duopolistic developers,
rent control,
and create jobs for the public good

if, for instance, you’re hiring
a teacher at a state run community college,
that teacher should be able
to afford to live in the community she works

she’ll be able to do her job better
and the citizens will get more bang for their buck
(same for the janitor)

and even if all of this is
an offensive
to the free-market apologists,
doesn’t it become
a little less so
once I acknowledge
that we’re talking about
public city owned land—
one of the last bullworks
against absolute privitization
that you could use,
for instance,
to make your proclamation
of a Black Arts District
more than an empty symbol,
or a badge of absolute

(first stanza is a haiku)

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