Friday, October 08, 2010

Razing and rebuilding Hillsdale Terrace is still a bad idea

Hillsdale Terrace is the "X" and "O" at the bottom center of this aerial photo.
The Mittleman Jewish Community Center is at the top right quadrant.

Last year I opposed the Housing Authority of Portland’s application to receive federal money ($16.5 million) deemed essential to razing and replacing the deteriorating, 40-year-old Hillsdale Terrace project here in our community.

If you don’t know where the Terrace is, it’s because its 60 units are hidden away in a moldering, soggy, isolated gulch.

Now HAP is reapplying — this time for more federal money ($18 million).

The project is still a bad idea. The site remains isolated, residents would have to be displaced for up to three years and demolition and extensive site work drive up costs.

As I urged the first time around, HAP should pursue different approaches. Both involve getting rid of Hillsdale Terrace but keeping its residents in Hillsdale and Multnomah.

One idea would be to sell the Hillsdale Terrace project to a developer and buy a new, community-connected, easily build-able site. If HOPE VI funds can't be used to build on a new site, as HAP maintains, find different funding and scale back the project, which currently would double the current number of units from 60 to 122.

(UPDATE: I e-mailed HUD, which distributes the funds, about HAP's claim that HOPE VI can only be used to develop existing sites, not new ones. Late Friday, HUD spokesperson Donna White wrote back to say the HOPE VI money can be, and has been, used for off-site developments. I've asked HAP to respond. Stay tuned.)

The other would be to seek "Section 8" federal funding that would set folks up in local housing with rent subsidies. (The argument that property owners won’t rent to the poor seems lame in light of HAP’s relying on local rentals for residents displaced during the proposed reconstruction of Hillsdale Terrace.)

Math alert: I’m about to share some key numbers. Two points are worth noting.

We are talking about a total figure of $45.1 million poured into an grossly deficient site. How might that money, or even half that amount, be better spent to help the poor in our neighborhood?

2) HAP may quibble with my math, but I’ve tried my best to work with the agency’s numbers. If they disagree with my calculations, I welcome their critique.

HAP’s cost figures show that site-related expenses (demolition, relocation, site work) come to $7.27 million. Tack on to that $2.1 million in “HOPE VI administration costs” and, say, another $3 million for what HAP might get by selling the 6-acre Hillsdale Terrace property and you get more than $12 million in costs associated with the site alone.

That’s before you figure in the actual cost of “hard” construction.

By the way, I have left out $3.1 million, the HAP budgeted amounts for support services for children and residents (who are generally undereducated, unskilled and steeped in poverty). That money will be needed whatever happens.

Now add in the actual cost of construction, $32.7 million, to the $12 million mentioned above.

Divide by 122 units and you come up with $370,000 per unit.

In this market, you could buy a handsome house (including land) or a South Waterfront condo for that amount. To say nothing of how much rent that would subsidize through the Section 8 program.

And remember, the figure still allows for $3.1 in social services for a population in desperate need for help.

A final point: the cost per unit figure doesn’t factor in what HAP plans to spend to buy and demolish three duplexes on SW 26th — just so motorists on Capitol Highway can get a fleeting glimpse of a project that should never have been built in the first place.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Google TV: Targeting Kids and other Intended Consequences

The introductory ad for Google TV is titled "Kids Again."

It has left out a word, "Targeting."

"Targeting Kids Again."

The very first line in the copy gets to the point: "We haven't been this excited about TV since Saturday morning cartoons."


Saturday morning cartoons are certainly something to get excited about. Captive, malleable minds. Endless advertising opportunities for sugary junk food and plastic trinkets.

Diabetes gets another boost among kids. We can be sure Big Pharma is really excited about Google TV.

Want to see health care costs soar?

How about violence without end. Think of all those new privatized, tax-supported prisons we can build when the new generation of Googled Kids move into being Googled felons.

Hey, Tea Party-ers, how about it? If you're so concerned about values, what do you say to an outfit like Google that is so "excited" about undermining the health and values of the next generation?

Right, right. It's all about the glories of the unregulated free market. Keep big government's mitts of this. Down with the "Nanny State"!

If kids want to spend hours in front of Google TV downing chips and cola rather than visiting parks to explore nature or playgrounds to shoot hoops and climb jungle gyms, it's their choice.

It certainly isn't their parents'. Moms (or, if you are lucky, Moms and Dads) are too busy trying to escape foreclosure, pay the rent and hold down minimum wage jobs.

So give the parents a break. Let them turn "parenting" over to Google TV and the "excitement" of a screen-centered childhood.

Thanks Google...for thinking inside the box. Again.

Finally, consider the ad's tag line. It's the really scary part: "The coolest thing about Google TV is that we don't even know what the coolest thing about it will be."

How cool is that? Not very.

Just think, more new technology without a clue as to what it will do. Brilliant.

Of course, Google knows exactly what the "coolest" thing will be about Google TV. Piles of money made at the expense of the next generation of kids.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Life without Pickups

In three weeks in Europe (Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and England) I saw but one vehicle that might pass as a pickup truck.

Very odd.

Because pickups are embedded in American culture (they are the largest single category of vehicle sold here), the lack of open haulers in Europe must be a cultural marker.

For starters, here's an entire continent without pickup OWNERS.

That’s huge!

Allow me to unleash a few stereotypes....No gun racks, no National Rifle Association window stickers. (Could Europe’s strict gun laws account for the lack of pickups? Help me out here, red-blooded gun lovers.)

No “God Bless America” signs (“God Bless France”?), no Golden retrievers (White Poodles?) hanging over the sides.

No tailgates.

(If only there were no tailgaters. In Germany they drive Mercedes Benz’s. They must call them something else in Europe. “Bumper chasers?” Don’t ask me what I called them. This is a “family” blog.)

And what about tailgate parties? Talk about cultural deprivation!

How else do pickup trucks define us in these United States?

We “throw stuff” into our pickups. We move a lot. We move stuff a lot.

In Europe, they don’t move so much. And when they do, it isn’t very far. And they have less stuff.

They do have these little vans (they aren’t big enough to be “moving vans”) that seem to substitute for pickups. I doubt anyone “throws” stuff into them because you can’t see what you might hit. The wife? The poodle? The kids?

Nor can you throw stuff out of your van. A van’s contents, not “stuff,” needs to be removed, carefully.

America is a big country and a pickup truck, parked in our expanse (deserts, plains, fields, driveways), allows its owner to load from the back, the sides and the sky (vis. the girder-dropping “Ford Tough” ads).

Vans, on the other hand, get parked next to hedgerows, frilly boutiques in alley-sized streets, or embankments on narrow country lanes.

Enclosed as they are, vans offer no “sides” or “tops” to load from.

I’ve done a little on-line sleuthing on this NO PICKUPS in EUROPE subject and somebody in a Fodor’s travel discussion mentioned the tax advantages the Feds give pickups here.

And someone else said that a pickup’s turning radius would be limiting in European tight spaces.

Another returned tourist mentioned prohibitive European gas prices, which run nearly three times what they are here.

All true enough, but no one got into the deeper anthropological significance of this difference. It seems like a rich lode for some PhD. candidate who is desperate for a dissertation topic.

As for me, I don’t want to judge these cultures based on transport preferences, but to any visitor to one or the other continent, the pickup difference is unavoidable and weird.

Consider being a confused European visiting Cheyenne, Billings or Waco from Rome, Paris or Amsterdam.

You’ve just seen a pickup truck for the first time. Here’s a vehicle that looks seriously deprived. Who would drive one of those?

And what’s with that rifle hanging across the cabin window?

And the three rangy dogs pacing around in back, drooling over the sides?

Very strange place, this America.

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