The Right Way and the Wrong Way
When will they learn? After decades of neighborhood conflicts over the placement of social service facilities, there
are still nonprofit organizations that think they can ram a controversial project down the throats of people in our
communities, often in ways that lower the property values of longtime residents and make the neighborhood less
Two recently announced special needs housing projects show the difference between the right way and the wrong
way to do neighborhood planning.
One site, on Gates Avenue between Classon and Franklin Avenues, is scheduled to be developed as a single-room
occupancy housing facility for people with AIDS. Right now, the property is an unoccupied former hotel that looks like
a run-down haunted house.
The Pratt Area Community Council (PACC), which is developing the site, seems to have planned the project the
right way-that is, in collaboration with neighborhood institutions. By quietly approaching nearby churches and block
associations, PACC has at least made a gesture toward including local leaders in its planning process. A few people have
recently tried to block the project by making some ugly statements about AIDS victims, but the process still has a chance
of working. It’s important that PACC not turn a good start into a bad finish by refusing to meet with concerned residents.
Another project has already gotten off to a bad start. A six-story facility for 43 homeless men is being planned for
a vacant lot on the corner of Prospect Place and Bedford Avenue in Crown Heights-right next door to an active day care
center, and just four blocks away from the poorly run, overcrowded men’s shelter at Bedford and Atlantic Avenues.
Unlike the Bed-Stuy site, this one is just a fenced in, grassy lot: no crumbling buildings, no garbage or other problems.
But at a recent block association meeting, a representative from a group called Community Counseling and
Mediation refused to tell local homeowners (including yours truly) anything substantive about the planned project. There
were no drawings given to residents, and no written materials on the history of the organization wanting to build the
homeless facility. People had sensible and obvious questions: was the organization planning to put ex-offenders or
mentally ill people next to the day care center? Would there be screening to prevent sex offenders from moving in? Why
was the project being called “senior housing” if men as young as 50 could be moved in? No answers were given. In fact,
the representative said he hasn’t tried to gather any letters of support from local neighborhood groups because they “aren’t
Not surprisingly, the attitudes among my neighbors quickly changed from hopeful curiosity to anger and outrage.
It’s never too late to rebuild bridges, but the situation makes you wonder: what kind of “community group” refuses to
talk with parents before bringing potential problems to their block and their day care center? What would be the harm
in treating community people with courtesy, openness and respect? When will they finally learn?
Don’t Believe the Hype
My neighborhood has recently been flooded with flyers for rent-to-own stores. As fast as I toss them into the
recycling bin, a new one seems to get slipped under the door. The way the scam works is that you pay a small amount
each week for a TV, stereo, jewelry or household appliance. It seems cheap enough, but you typically end up paying
three or four times what the product is worth. Shopping at a rent-to-own store is like lighting a match to your paycheck.
Here’s the math on a 19-inch television that would cost $300 to buy outright. The ripoff rent-to-own store advertises
the TV as available for just $16 per week for 1 year. Sounds easy enough, right? The problem is that by the time you’ve
made 52 payments of $16, you’ve actually paid a whopping $832-more than twice what the TV is actually worth. That’s
like paying 254% in annual interest! (These figures are courtesy of the National Consumer Law Center in Boston).
There are a couple of ways to avoid getting ripped off. One alternative is to borrow from a local credit union, which
typically has much better rates than banks, and definitely better than a rental center. The other alternative is the best one:
save until you can afford to buy it.
Support Your Local Business
Just before the recent holiday, a message trickled out that a group calling itself the “Leadership Alliance” was asking
African-American consumers not to shop on the day after Thanksgiving, which is known as “Black Friday,” one of the
biggest shopping days of the year. The stated goal behind the one-day boycott, called “Dollar Out Day,” was to show
the power of the African-American consumer by denying our dollars to the economy.
For the record, I thought it was a crummy idea. The way the call was phrased, it was a request that African-
Americans spend no money with anyone-not even the local businesses that provide jobs, products and services within
our neighborhoods. It’s a well-known fact that Black retail businesses, like virtually all retailers, earn 100% of their
annual profits during the holiday shopping season-they call it “Black Friday” because that’s the day retailers go from
losing money (being “in the red”) to making money (being “in the black”). What good could possibly come from
harming neighborhood businesses with a boycott at a critical time in their year?
A whole host of community businesses are waiting for you with open arms and high quality products and services.
I urge you to use them–starting, of course, with the ones who advertise in Our Time Press.