August 8, 2020.
“President Trump claimed last week that he is protecting suburbanites from low-income housing projects, tweeting on July 29:
“I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood . . .”
Clearly, Trump is out of touch with suburban America. In Nassau County, no new low-income housing has been built for decades.
The Freeport Housing Authority recently rebuilt its Moxie Rigby apartment complex, previously a drab, red-brick structure surrounded by black chain-link fencing and set next to a heavily trafficked intersection. Now it’s a state-of-the-art building that is bright, clean and inviting. Contrary to depressing local home values, this new structure, constructed through a public-private partnership, will only improve them.
Moxie Rigby aside, we haven’t seen any new public housing built here in recent years, largely because of the prohibitive costs, particularly the high land values. Instead, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development issues Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, which, in theory, allow low-income residents, seniors and the disabled to rent the homes they want.
Two problems: One, there are relatively few rental units in Nassau compared with New York City and Westchester. Two, the rents are often exorbitantly expensive, far in excess of what the federal voucher program provides for. Section 8 voucher recipients thus tend to concentrate in Nassau’s poorest neighborhoods — often communities of color — straining local schools that struggle to keep up with services for many of the students in greatest need, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Instead of seeking a solution, Trump is actively working to keep low-income residents — often people of color — out of the suburbs. What we need, however, is national leadership.
Because of systemic racism, Black people were denied equal opportunities for safe and affordable public housing from the 1930s through the ’70s, especially in the suburbs, where the schools were better and the neighborhoods were safer. At the same time, Black people were often barred from buying homes in suburban neighborhoods, as was the case at first in Levittown after World War II. They were largely confined to inner cities or rural regions, without the most basic services, leaving them to fend for themselves.
Instead of working to lift up all Americans, in particular those of color who have traditionally been marginalized, Trump is perpetuating a racist system whose roots date back to the Jim Crow era, which lasted from the 1870s through the mid-1960s, when in many parts of the U.S. whites and Blacks remained separate, in unequal facilities.
Trump also forgets — or denies — that the suburbs are no longer lily-white. They are rapidly becoming multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. Immigrants, often people of color, are increasingly moving to the suburbs. In fact, without those immigrants, the suburbs could be in deep trouble.
In 2016, the Heralds undertook a yearlong investigative series titled “The Changing Face of Long Island.” Here’s what we wrote in our concluding editorial:
“According to a 2015 report by the Fiscal Policy Institute, ‘New Americans on Long Island,’ immigrants now comprise 18 percent of the population and 23 percent of the workforce, accounting for 20 percent of the Island’s total economic output.
“In total, there are some 526,000 foreign-born Long Islanders out of roughly 2.8 million people living in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Latin Americans make up the largest portion of the Island’s immigrant population, at 41 percent, but people come from throughout the world, including Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
“There is much talk about how Long Islanders are leaving for elsewhere because of the high cost of living. The Island, however, actually saw a net gain in population because of immigration. Suffolk’s population remained largely unchanged between 2000 and 2012, while Nassau’s increased by roughly 78,500 people, according to census data.”
Without the recent arrival of immigrants on Long Island, we could see steep drop-offs in locally owned businesses and the housing market. Trump should celebrate the new suburbia, not attempt to reignite tired old wars of words intended to divide people along racial and socioeconomic lines.
Like it or not, Mr. President, the suburbs are not — thank goodness — what they used to be. He must recognize the new realities of the suburbs and offer sound solutions to ensure that all people, regardless of their backgrounds, are able to live out their “Suburban Lifestyle Dream.”