Forming an alliance with the A(ffordable housing) Team

September 2, 2014

The arts community, once it gets itself organized, should do what Rocco Landesman did and buddy up with the team that always gets the big bucks: affordable housing.  In 2012 we voted for Proposition C to create a $1.5 billion dollar trust fund for affordable housing.  There will very likely be another bond measure in 2015 for another half billion dollars.   That’s $2 billion approved for affordable housing in a span of three years, and the given the desperate need for affordable housing the number should go higher. I know I’ll vote for it. The arts community should advocate for it.

I would argue that bond money for inclusionary affordable housing should also include money for inclusionary arts, inclusionary education, inclusionary recreation. We can’t live by rooms and sandwiches and meds alone.

Isn’t this the driving principal behind HOPE SF?  Healthy, balanced communities?  Five percent of $2 billion would provide $100 million for a real war chest that Brian Cheu and Tom DeCaigny can use to get past endless triage-oriented approaches and invest in truly long-term solutions toward healthy, balanced communities.

And wouldn’t affordable housing developers who speak all the time about neighborhood development (even use the term in their organization’s name) support this?

I recently had lunch with a big name public finance guy to ask for his help with 950.  He scoffed and said the city shouldn’t be investing in the arts for the Tenderloin/mid-Market. “What the neighborhood needs is more cops and fire stations.”  Yeah, okay.  I’ve also advocated for more cops for public safety, so no argument there.  But why does it have to be at the expense of the arts? (In fact, in light of recent events, if any group could use a heavy dose of human development through the arts, it’s cops.)

I get this view a lot from folks who didn’t grow up in the neighborhood.  Don’t live in it now and never will.  They’ve never waited in line for the giant tin cans of peanut butter and blocks of cheese to take home, find a safe place to keep it from the always-waiting rats and wonder what more there is to life. (Good thing I wasn’t lactose intolerant back then!) Give them poor folks their rooms, their meals, their meds and throw in a bunch of cops.  Mission accomplished.

I’ve grown tired of explaining to privileged progressives why the arts matter to poor folks.  But the message is too important to stop.  Endless cycles of dropping out and incarcerations for most young people who share my background.  We don’t offer them nearly enough ways out and the arts are a most powerful way.  I take consolation that someone with the lofty credentials of Maria Rosario Jackson recently shared she struggles with the same constant challenge. To date my favorite testimony on the topic still belongs to the late Quentin Easter of Lorraine Hansberry Theater: