Thursday, August 14, 2008

Water Leadership & Low-Income Housing

1) California’s US senator is showing great leadership on the water issue by calling on state legislators to realize that we face a real catastrophe if we do not deal with our wholly inadequate water supply infrastructure, in this article from the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

“Warning that California faces catastrophic water shortages from a worsening drought, Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday upbraided state lawmakers for failing to rally behind a proposed $9.3 billion water bond for the November ballot.

“Feinstein has joined Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in calling for major improvements to state water storage and delivery systems. But their water bond plan has run aground in the Legislature.

“Lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have been loath to support the program, which would include $3 billion for water storage and $1.9 billion to repair levees and restore the ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“Legislative efforts to place the measure on the November ballot have also stumbled amid the state's bitter budget standoff.

“In a speech to the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Feinstein urged lawmakers to end the budget stalemate and put the water infrastructure proposal on the ballot.

“She warned that that the state's water supply is drying up, with a decreasing Sierra snowpack that could shrink by 40 percent by 2050 due to global warming.

"The last major addition to California's water systems was in the 1960s," said Feinstein, who parts with fellow Democrats in calling for new dams and other storage. "Our state had 16 million people then. We have 38 million now, and we have the same water infrastructure."

2) The best point inferred in this commentary is that our experience over the years concentrating lower-income people in large projects doesn’t work, but what also doesn’t work are large investments in job and education training; another experiential based lesson—after decades of Great Society programs—we’ve learned.

What does seem to work is what has worked for generations in this country, small grassroots organizations, many driven by faith, working with people who truly want to be helped, and inspiring them to begin obtaining the tools to help themselves.

Coercive programs, whether mandating developers devote a certain percentage of housing to one group of people or another, or pushing concentrated housing for the chronic homeless into already suffering communities, just have no record of having worked.

Accepting responsibility, being prepared to work hard, and exercising free will still drives the desire for transforming an individual life, whether climbing up from poverty or changing a destructive life style, and probably always will.

Grassroots programs, usually developed and managed by folks who have “been there” are what traditionally have shown the transformative promise government—with all good intention—tends to promote and fund.

An excerpt from the commentary.

“One thing we have learned in more than 40 years of anti-poverty programs in the United States is that when large numbers of poor people are concentrated into single neighborhoods, it becomes much more difficult for them to get out of poverty. Thus, the whole thrust of U.S. housing assistance over the past 15 years has been towards helping people move to opportunity – such as the Hope VI program to demolish large public housing projects and replace them with mixed-income units, the Housing Choice Voucher Program to assist people to choose where to live, and inclusionary zoning ordinances, designed to ensure a mixture of market rate and affordable units in all new developments.

“The sad truth is that the scale of our housing assistance to low-income people in this country is tiny compared with the need. We need more housing assistance and we also need investment in education and job training, expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and more of the support low-income parents need to enter the job market including child care and health insurance.”