When a friend, standing short in stature but a giant in the world of local politics, quietly but firmly “yells” at me, I listen. Her displeasure concerned my article on the City Council’s lack of progressive and positive growth for this large town. She wants to hear about things the city does right.
On July 2, the city took the ethical and moral high road, tabling any action on the annexation and rezoning of Sunset and Ed’s mobile home parks until August. The arguments by Mary Hussmann, director of Grass Roots Organizing, were some of the best heard on the council’s floor. The council did the right thing, for the right reasons. However, there is more.
On the surface, the problem appears simple. The homeowner must rent the property where the home is placed. If the property is annexed and the zoning change is granted, the property value will increase. If the property owners take advantage of this increased value, they may sell the land from under the homeowner’s foundations and about 100 families may very well be displaced. Most of the owners fall within the lower income brackets and cannot absorb the costs of such a move.
There really is nothing “mobile” about a mobile home, and there is nothing demoralizing about home ownership. Many of these homes have been on their foundations for decades, so moving them, if you can find a place to move them, is an expensive and very risky proposition at best.
It is admirable and proper for the City Council to be concerned about the fate of its citizens, current and future. Yet, exploring the financial concerns of moving the residents is only a small part of the overall problem.
The primary argument is the lack of affordable housing areas and of affordable home ownership opportunities for Columbia’s lower income families, those who work hard at jobs that are hidden or ignored. Those we fail to thank for their hard work, cleaning our homes, offices and commercial buildings, serving our food, assisting us at the retail outlets and caring for our sick and elderly. They are the invisible gears of our society. Where should the working poor live?
Organizations like GRO, the Columbia Housing Authority, Habitat for Humanity and Central Missouri Community Action are working to bring home ownership within reach of the working poor. Columbia Transit is moving to redesign its routing system to accommodate those who lack transportation or who can no longer afford the fuel. But there needs to be more.
When the City Council meets Monday, it needs to look deeper than just the cost of relocating the residents of Sunset and Ed’s. The council must re-examine the issue of affordable housing creating new affordable home ownership opportunities, while giving the new residents a voice in the daily care and honor of their communities. The city must provide the transportation services to accommodate those working in the evenings and weekends to support their families. The council needs to be proactive.
As important, the council needs to provide low-income residents protection from crime and a buffer from economic disaster. They must collaborate with local financial institutions, support organizations and businesses to provide access to low-cost housing loans, employment providing a living wage and protection from lending predators. They need to work with the residents of Sunset and Ed’s to create a cooperative to purchase the properties, to manage their own future.
This is the new benchmark for our City Council, creating active economic and citizen benefits. The protection of our citizens who sit on the economic bubble is the purpose of government. John Locke said such in his “Two Treatises of Government.” If his words were good enough for our Founding Fathers, they should be good enough for our City Council.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.