Friday, October 3, 2008

Pham-Remmele not feeling very welcoming

"We must not continue to welcome into Madison more at-risk populations from elsewhere because we will never have sufficient resources to provide for them." - Madison Alder Thuy Pham-Remmele, 20th District.

I'm aware that sentiments such as this one exist, but it's somewhat rare to see them laid so bare, and by an elected official, no less. And I couldn't disagree with it more.

A skirmish of sorts has broken out between Pham-Remmele and those who advocate for more affordable housing and public services, the result of an email sent by Madison Police Captain Jay Lengfeld (West District) to Pham-Remmele. In it, Lengfeld argues that:
1. The City needs to reduce or freeze the number of subsidized housing units in the city. The at risk population in Madison has exceeded the ability of service provides to service them.

2. The City needs to license landlords, so we have citywide standards and can weed out the bad ones.

3. Landlords need more protection to deny applicants with a history of bad behavior. The Russett Rd shooting is a prefect example: a family was evicted from an address on the Southside for behavior reasons and within weeks they had the same bad behavior in the Russett Rd area. We are now evicting them from Russett, but I am sure they will find housing somewhere else in the city and bring the same problems to that neighborhood.
At first blush, I think most folks would agree that landlords should be able to better screen out bad tenants. But, according to Ald. Brenda Konkel, they already do have that ability under the law, so Lengfeld's point seems redundant. Konkel further breaks down his arguments, going on to note that:
1. The City hasn't increased its subsidized housing stock in, um, years. CDA hasn't built any new public housing units since the 1970's and the section 8 program hasn't added any Section 8 vouchers since the 1990s.

2. Landlords have all the ability in the world to deny tenants for bad behavior and eviction records. They simply have to do landlord reference checks and check CCAP.

3. There is no money in the City budget for increased community services to help service providers because we gave it all to the police department last year for their 30 new officers to deal with these problems. You can't have it both ways, do we need police to solve these problems or services?
I'd be curious to look over just what money is and is not allocated in the City budget for community services, and what, if any, those services are. But otherwise, Konkel makes some good points. We poured a ton of money into adding 30 new officers to the rolls--which still seems pretty excessive to me--and now Lengfeld's complaining that that's not enough. Since we clearly don't have the money to both add lots of officers and increase city services, we should maybe be spending more time figuring out which is the better investment. Me? I suspect we could have met in the middle, adding a smaller number of new officers and somewhat better funding for community services.

Law enforcement is important, but it doesn't solve everything. We need to work harder at preventing crimes in the first place, and a lot of that relies on making sure all of our citizens, at-risk or otherwise, are well served: good schools, affordable housing, accessible daycare, respite centers, job training, and after school programs are all good examples.

Simply saying "stop letting at-risk people move here!" does not solve the problem, and likely just makes things worse by demonizing an entire population and forcing them to pool in areas that don't have services. Then the cycle just tends to continue, with little progress for anyone.

Happily, I'm not the only one who's more than a little put off by Pham-Remmele's comments. But we need more voices chiming in, from all sides, so we can better devise good solutions and tactics for tackling what is a very complex--and very crucial--issue.


Cam said...

fight the power

Anonymous said...

You know, I think it is a balancing act. We need to cultivate good neighbors, good neighborhoods and we also need to cultivate the rest of the city outside of those areas so troubled.

I am fortunate enough to not have to live in a crime-ridden neighborhood like Allied, but I think what the alderperson was expressing is a frustration and powerless-ness over bad apples. Lately it has seemed like Madison is becoming akin to a classroom where two or three bullies control the atmosphere of the city. I'm not claiming to have an answer, just saying that I would be pissed as hell if I had cop cars screaming down my street every night.

Chuck said...

I live not too far from Allied. A few springs ago, shortly after I moved here, my mom was visiting and planting flowers in my front garden. A gang of kids in ski masks ran down the street smashing car windows with bats and chased her out of the yard. Get these people out of my city. They don't need services, they need removal. They chased my mom with bats; this has been removed from the world of philosophical banter for me. Abstract people off in the bad part of town need services. These people need killing.

Brenda Konkel is an a grandstanding clueless blatherer, and if she doesn't get ignored even more people will be hurt or killed. Thuy's doing what her constituents are demanding; working to get the thugs out of our neighborhood. Compromising here isn't splitting the money between police and 'services', it's splitting the difference between police and 'people getting shot in their driveway just down the block'.

After the shooting last month, the police were looking for stray bullets in my friend's front yard. If Brenda wants to be useful she can go help with that.

Emily said...

Chuck - I'm not going to argue that what happened to your mom was terrible, and I'm very sorry it happened. The people responsible should have met with appropriate punishment--but say that they "need killing" is utterly ridiculous, and I can only hope you were simply falling into hyperbole and didn't really mean that.

There's a reason kids end up like that, and it's not all nature. They can be helped before it gets to the place where they feel like running around terrorizing people with bats or guns or whatever is a good idea. That's where community services come in. You want to prevent that kind of crap from happening in the first place? Then you want to make sure that people have equal access to good community services, and not just a huge police presence.

Chuck said...

That was hyperbole of course, it was meant to show the point at which I made the personal mental transition between making the world a better place someday somewhere and getting those kids off my lawn right now. I like to think of it as the Cranky Old Man tipping point.

The problem with social investment is that it generally doesn't fix things here or now. It may make things better for todays children when they grow up and move somewhere else, but it does little to nothing in the present term local area. I have two cousins, one was a social worker here and the other was MPD. They solved pretty much the same sorts of problems, but they generally agreed that the one with the gun and the badge got a lot more done (and was way more stressed by her job, she's since moved on.)

I have enough social workers and cops in my family to know that there's a place for both, but right now Madison has more need for one than the other. One is prevention, one is cure, and right now we need a lot more cure than we have because the prevention failed somewhere else and their trouble spread here.

There is a reason kids end up like that, but once they've done gone and ended up like that there's not a lot social work's going to do. Once they are like that, community services are nothing but free lunch for them. When it comes right down to it, simply saying "stop letting at-risk people move here!" does solve the problem when the problem isn't looked as as "how do we make people not grow up like this?" but as "there are people like this regardless of how I wish the world was, do I want them to be someone elses problem in a far off place or here, chasing my mom off my lawn with bats?"

It's blatant self interest, but that's life. I'm sick of groups of youths commenting that I wore the right color of shirt to walk past their corner, people screaming in my ear as I walk past them on the sidewalk, picking used condoms off my front lawn. (I really have no explanation for that last one, it's just not something I encountered living other places and it's an extra little bit of nonviolent nasty to give the neighborhood flavor.) Brenda's in full on denial that subsidized housing draws criminals like flys to, er, honey, but that's just simple fact.

Emily said...

I don't blame you for being fed up, Chuck, I really don't. I have a problem with this idea of unrolling the welcome mat, though, because how do you ultimately define who does and does not get to live here? How do you determine who these "at-risk" populations are? Is there an income cap, police records check, three strikes you're out, what?

It might be possible to vet people on a case by case basis, but that would take up a lot of time and money that we're already strapped for. So simply issuing a blanket ban on people moving in--well, that's one hell of a slippery slope right there. And I'm just not willing to get on board.

Chuck said...

I got the impression that you weren't willing to get on board when you made headlines on a local news site with your post. You don't seem to see it as anything but a fluffy moral debate on feeling welcoming. I see two murders within blocks of my house in the last year and a mom who won't go outside when she visits. This is your fault, but it's not your problem. People are scared and dead because of what you believe, and it doesn't matter to to you, it's just some abstract policy debate.

What set me to respond to your first post was the idea that it's rare to you to see these sentiments. You should expose yourself to people who aren't just like you before you promote your political opinions as being the only sentiments that aren't rare. If you're really only dimly aware that these disagreeable sentiments even exist, and it's shocking to you to see a local elected official aware of them, you're remarkably disconnected from everything but a few information and cultural sources you've carefully chosen to shield you from ideas you don't like. For someone who tries to have a strong voice in shaping culture, that's scary.

Emily said...

I made headlines somewhere? I have no idea what you're talking about there, could you provide a link?

You're accusing me of a lot of things without knowing me at all. I have lived in neighborhoods and cities that had major problems with crime. I've also lived in more affluent areas. I've worked with folks living on the edge of society, and listened to their opinions and stories, and tried to take as many of them to heart as possible. Please don't point your finger at me and say that I shield myself from people who disagree with me--at least until such time as we've had a chance to sit down and chat in person, at the very least.

Like I said, I value your input on this, especially as someone who has to deal with these problems on a seemingly regular basis. That I still don't feel like saying "we need to not welcome at-risk populations" is the correct course of action doesn't change that.

People are scared and dead because of what you believe, and it doesn't matter to to you, it's just some abstract policy debate.

That's just offensive and unnecessary. You're blaming me for the violent actions of others? How does that work, exactly? You're starting to lose me with all these ridiculous attacks. I think we can do better.

Chuck said...

The headline was among the first things I read on an ill and cranky morning, right under Brenda's comments-unwelcome but otherwise similar post, RSS'd via:

I apologize for any crankiness that should be directed at her being directed at you instead. Your post seemed to be a 'me too' that actually welcomed commentary.

I'm not claiming to know you, I was just irked by your opening line "I'm aware that sentiments such as this one exist, but it's somewhat rare to see them laid so bare, and by an elected official, no less." It set the tone that this sort of thought is rare and unwelcome and has no place in Madison, and that you chose to use it your opening seemed to be setting a fairly strident and patronizing tone. I wasn't claiming that you shield yourself from this sort of idea, I was calling you on opening your post by bragging about it.

As for my possibly inappropriate comment, I thought for a while about including that. I realize it's strident, but I really do believe that the policies that you're advocating as an alternative to police are directly responsible for the deterioration of neighborhoods and the violent deaths that result. These are things that would not have happened without the social disruption and the community disconnection caused by increasing reliance on government services at the expense of family and community. The great social experiment that was the expansion of the New Deal had the side effect of removing a great deal of individual motivation and behavioral self correction among the people who benefited most from it, and that's one of the main causes of the failure of the unwritten social conduct structures that were designed to produce noncriminal citizens. I'm not saying that no good has come of these things, just that urban violence comes from the disintegration of the urban poor family, which is directly a result of highly interventionist social policy that people thought was a good idea at the time. It's an attempt to get you to realize that large scale government funded social programs you are advocating don't always end well, and are in fact the main reason that America has such an absurd incarceration rate. They've been done for 70 years; they caused this problem; throwing more money at them will not fix it unless their goals and conduct rules are drastically changed, to the point of actual long term behavior modification of the participants, which you've stated is a slippery slope you're not willing to get onboard. Voices like yours steering cultural direction do matter, just not always in the ways they intend to, and there are always unintended consequences that are very real.

Emily said...

Chuck - First off, thanks for being willing to clarify your comments, and to continue this discussion.

I had not intended for my opening sentence to be patronizing, or to indicate that I was bragging of keeping myself shielded from those sorts of sentiments. What I was trying to express, perhaps poorly, was that though I'm aware that some people share that notion (because I've hung around folks who've said as much), I rarely hear it put so bluntly.

I don't think it's rare, and I never said it was "unwelcome in Madison" - though certainly it's not popular.

I would also like to clarify that the policies I'm proposing are not meant as a complete alternative to policing solutions. I'm an advocate of balance, and I believe both strong, well-trained, competent policing is just as important as comprehensive social programs. We need both, but I think far too often we fall back on relying primarily on punishment.

I agree that not all "interventionist" social policies have been effective, and that some have, in fact, only further enabled the problems. But again, just because some programs don't work, doesn't mean we should give up on them all. Balance. We need to perhaps reexamine how we design and implement said programs, and be willing to be as honest about the problems as possible.

Social responsibility must be balanced (there's that word again, sorry for being repetitive) with personal responsibility - just as punishment must be balanced with prevention. That's what I believe, and part of that belief entails being willing to hear out alternate ideas and takes on the matter. I sincerely hope I never shut myself off from differing viewpoints, and I appreciate you taking the time to come here and express yours.

Chuck said...

A brief update, because I posted so much before -

The violence in my area is getting worse, to the point that my fiance doesn't feel safe here, doesn't want to have kids here, and wants us to abandon our house and move into a friends basement. I'm looking at abandoning a house I've lived in since 2003 because it won't be sellable for even what's left of the mortgage because of the driveby shootings and murder just down the block, and possibly declaring bankruptcy to get rid of the loan debt.

Meanwhile, the mayor has decided to blacklist my alderperson because she complains about crime too much.

This is Madison to me now.

The Lost Albatross