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DAVID ROSMAN: Regency decision put City Council between a rock and a hard place

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 | 2:42 p.m. CST; updated 2:49 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I could not make it to the Columbia City Council meeting Monday evening, but I was able to watch the entire ordeal on television — three hours devoted to the Regency mobile home park alone.

I saw the good, the bad and the very untenable position in which members of the council found themselves — between a rock and a hard place.

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The vote on Monday was the only outcome the council could have reached without a unanimous "Yea" vote.

It passed, but there were no lemmings on the council floor.

The situation with the mobile home park property really became a "damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't" decision.

I was very pleased that Councilwomen Barbara Hoppe and Helen Anthony stuck to their sense of justice. I was proud to hear each of the other council members articulate clearly why they were voting for the developer after listening carefully to the community.

I was also impressed with the students who spoke to the council, voicing their concerns for the residents of the park. As members of council noted, the students were articulate, and their concern for Columbia residents was more than evident.

I am sorry the residents of the mobile home park are being forced out of their homes, but now they have additional time and funding.

This exercise brought two elements to the surface: the inability of the city to regulate its zoning codes, and the failure of the city to establish a workable long-term plan to develop affordable housing.

The first I will leave to City Council to evaluate and politicize during future meetings and the 2012 election process.

As citizens, we should be most concerned about the second matter.

Affordable housing, whether single-family, manufactured or apartment homes, is just not available in Columbia. Not only for the working poor, the disabled and the elderly, but also for the middle class. 

It is unfortunate that prosperity has not been equally distributed and that salaries, even for the middle class, have not kept up with inflation.

In fact, the U.S Census Bureau (Median Household Income by State - 2-Year Averages) reports that the median income for a family of four in Missouri was $55,625 in 2000. In 2010, it was $47,879. 

If we figure inflation per the Consumer Price Index, that figure should be closer to $70,500. Americans are becoming poorer.

When I teach communication, students study many subjects, including psychology, specifically Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The very first need concerns the environment where one lives: One needs a roof over his head, safe food to eat and clean, fresh water for drinking and bathing.

If these needs are not met, one cannot function in a civil society. Work becomes secondary. Safety is out of the question. One’s social environment is nearly nonexistent.

Without affordable housing, these needs cannot be met. That includes protection for renters living in situations similar to the Regency mobile home park.

The council’s decision was the lesser of the two evils. It is not a good solution, but Aspen Heights management, as the mayor and others noted, listened to residents and provided them with a better compensation package.

I am just not happy about Aspen’s methodology in achieving that goal, but it was achieved.

I am sorry the park is closing and that the woods will be destroyed to make way for yet more student housing. I agree with Councilman Daryl Dudley: Being evicted later is better in this case than sooner.

One last thing. The statement by Councilman Jason Thornhill about comments from  students sounded more like an admonishment than a compliment. It was more like "Put yourselves to something more useful" than "Wow, I am proud of you; now continue the fight."

I know the latter is what he meant, but this is a perception problem.

I could have taken it wrong, but I work with college students and know their perceptions are a bit fragile.

Thornhill needs to issue a clarification and work with students from all three campuses in Columbia to make affordable housing a reality.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. His new book, "A Christian Nation?," is now available.


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