ON THE QT
Everything You Always Suspected--
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Like That Officer Next Door.
Publisher and Editor
to On The QT #19, second in a frequently asked questions
(FAQ) series. The last closed with "Is QT secretly published
in Jersey City, New Jersey?" Often asked because QT has
regularly covered that city and its neighbor, Hoboken.
THE STAGE IS THE THING.
Jersey City and Hoboken sit on the shore of the Hudson River
facing the west side of Manhattan. These are the Hudson County
cities people tend to think of when they refer to "The Gold
Coast" though the economic impact of the past 20 years ripples
throughout the entire county. The nickname arose in the Big 80's
when the first of a series of real estate tsunamis swept over the
area. Prior to this Jersey City and Hoboken were mired in post
industrial doldrums. While blue collar jobs disappeared the
underclass grew. Suburban migration, riots in the sixties and
early seventies, the rise of the drug culture and the decline
of the two parent family took the toll most cities experienced.
None the less, many socially cohesive neighborhoods remained
throughout Jersey City. And much smaller, mile square Hoboken
was still a main street home town.
REAL REAL REAL ESTATE
The 80's real estate boom in Hudson County was the result of
an immense spillover from Manhattan, a diaspora of younger
professionals forced out of the city by high rents. Who in turn
displaced a poorer, more family centered population. In the
neighborhoods best served by transportation to NYC, the hardest
hit residents were largely Hispanic. Gentrification by any means
necessary rolled over them as landlords saw their tenements
become potential "charming brownstones on tree lined streets" and
real estate values sky rocketed. Hoboken was dubbed "Arson City"
as tenement after tenement burned smoking out the poor and
clearing the way for gut rehabs. Many of which were helped
along by various government backed development loans and tax
abatements. Every Renaissance has its price. Some two dozen
people burned to death. The Hispanic population in Hoboken shrank
to a handful who now mainly reside in public housing projects in
the back of the city. The largely middle class newcomers who
moved to Hoboken and Jersey City during Reagan's Decade Of Greed
were themselves eventually threatened by the coming of wealthier
newcomers during Clinton's Decade Of Greed. The 80's arrivals
however, proved far more successful at fighting for their
survival than had Hoboken's Hispanics.
WAR WAR BABY!
Despite an entrenched culture of corruption which flowered most
fully in mid century political machines, both Jersey City and
Hoboken produced notable gadflies and neighborhood activists.
Ones who were often treated as prophets unwelcome on home turf
and who fought for such things as transparency in government,
fiscal accountability, enforcement of housing codes, tenant
rights, safe streets and for curbs on the environmental excesses
of Hudson County's gangsta developers. By the late 80's,
coalitions were forming between these long term trench fighters
and the new arrivals. Who by this point owned condos and houses
and were angered by property tax inequities (such as abatements
granted mushrooming Wall Street back office and bedroom
communities) as well as quality of life and environmental issues.
And by being locked out of a local political system dominated by
a mainly white ethnic, old boy network. One with a record of eye
popping corruption and which in Jersey City increasingly owed
its political life to the voting power of black Democrats. Black
voters got housing projects in return but were carefully kept
out of the corridors of power. As with Hispanics in Hoboken,
housing for the poorer members of Jersey City's black population
ON THE WATERFRONT.
Last year, Jersey City elected its first black mayor. Rejecting
the chosen successor of reform Republican Bret Schundler who
sadly, reformed little. Just added his own layer to the impasto.
The job of major reform still waits. As does a sizable
underclass. But Hudson County is a much more dynamic place than
in the past. The political and economic cards are tossed in the
air at a much faster pace. The players increase rapidly. Jersey
City is home to an ever growing number of immigrants from the
Middle East and from Pakistan and India. Some of the waterfront
"bedroom people" show signs of political awakening and the
activist core of neighborhood associations, waterfront groups and
gadflies have proved to be tenacious and highly sophisticated.
Jersey City, Hoboken and the rest of Hudson County are an urban
work in progress. Social dynamism is why the Gold Coast has been
of interest and is what makes it relevant when considering the
future of cities. QT has no secret outpost anywhere on its
WHY PICK ON POOR LIL OLE HUD?
Another FAQ. HUD (The US Department of Housing and Urban
Development) though ole, is neither poor nor lil. Though born
small (post WWII with a different name) and for a limited
purpose, it now resembles Adam Smith's Invisible Hand. In scope
if not theoretical impartiality. The HUD hand taketh away cheap
private slums and giveth back expensive government bankrolled
ones. In run down neighborhoods HUD has been notoriously lax
about obtaining an accurate picture of the local rental market,
basing its voucher payments on better areas within the same zip
code. Therein subsidizing slumlords and saying "why bother" to
responsible ones. As HUD inflated median rent levels climb, so
does the need for affordable housing. Riding to the rescue, HUD
bankrolls developers who don't really build affordable housing,
just more units for HUD to subsidize. Making more tenants
dependent on HUD. Forcing ones resistant to being subsidized into
a shrinking and less competitive private market. Madre de Dios,
could it be possible that the housing cure is incubating
THOSE TEXAS HI-FI GUYS
The Housing Fraud Initiative Task Force (nick name Hi-Fi) is
a group of federal investigators based in Texas. Their general
target is HUD fraud. Their scope, national. Several years ago
they started digging into HUD programs, including the community
development block grants given cities and counties, single family
housing and management of funds at public housing authorities.
Their investigation has been mainly focused on six areas of the
country which have had a high level of complaints and/or
prosecutions. Those areas are northern Texas, northern Illinois,
the District of Columbia, Maryland, the Los Angeles area and
eastern New York State.
THE OFFICER NEXT DOOR
is a HUD program initiated in 1997. A few years later, under
then HUD head Andrew Cuomo, it was expanded to include teachers.
The program gives both police and teachers major discounts on
home purchases in "transitional" neighborhoods. The requirement
being residence for at least three years. The theory being that
the mere presence of Officer Krupky and Miss Peach would prove
inspiring and stabilizing. As widely reported the program
was suspended temporarily last year. Over 21 percent of the
transactions were found to be bogus. Either the officer/teacher
next door was somewhere else collecting rent, or the homes
flipped like pancakes, or the transitional nabe was a gated
community, or the cop turned out to be a prison guard, or so
on and so forth. Hi-Fi, under the supervision of Special Agent
Max Eamiguel, was the force behind the bust.
MIRACLE OF MIRACLES,
after a mere 4 months suspension, all fraud wormholes in the
program were declared plugged by current HUD head Mel Martinez!
An amazing turn around time for an agency known for its
elephantine nature. As well as for huge -- think billions--
amounts of missing money. And more localized HUD programs with
fraud problems have been suspended for much longer periods. No
doubt pressure to lift the suspension by relevant unions, the
real estate industry and revitalizin' politicians helped speed
the return of this "successful" program. Always so described
by its advocates despite an absence of verifiable proof of
beneficial effect and a detected fraud rate that in the real
world would result in a hot potato drop. Or an Enron implosion.
If the neighbors of the one in five frauds next door were polled,
would they say they felt stabilized and inspired?
QT DOUBTS IT.
The Officer Next Door is just one fairly small, but highly
typical example of a HUD program riddled with scams. The police
and teachers involved are no more crooked--and sadly, no less--
than the many others who help themselves to HUD. Who know HUD was
built to help, but who've forgotten it was built to help the less
fortunate. HUD needs a major reconsideration. Not just a cob job,
but a major examination of its ever growing mission and of what
it has wrought. If entrenched fraud went hand in hand with swell
housing for all and booming small cities, one might say oh well.
But after half a century of massive expenditure and the growing
dependencies of so many communities on the economy of HUD, why
do so many slums remain, well, slums? Why do so many cities
still crumble? On The QT will continue to frequently ask these
questions. And that's a FAQ.
Another One Bites The Dust: The Northeast Corruption Busts
Continue/HUD HUD & More HUD/Caligula Meets Babbitt: How Mayor
Phil Filled His Time in Waterbury/If Drugs Were Legal Would Only
Some Cities Have Drugs?/The Return Of Shining Websites: Lengthy
Listings of New and Fabulous Links
"A house is not a home, not unless there's someone living
Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, A House Is Not A Home
"Trailer for sell or rent, rooms to let, 50 cents..."
Roger Miller, King of The Road
ON THE QT is online at
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