Meet John Doe: Legitimate debate on public housing is not “giving up on Rockford”

By Paul Gorski

I believe Shane Nicholson was a bit harsh in his editorial “The sad refrain of giving up on Rockford.” I do agree there seems to be a bit of “not in my neighborhood” when it comes to relocating public housing in Rockford. However, I am not sure there is a “seedy undertone” to the public housing discussion. 

I believe there is much misunderstanding regarding crime and property values as they relate to public housing. First, I’d challenge anyone to show facts, statistics that show significantly higher crime rates surrounding public housing.

Academic studies do not show a clear pattern of higher crime rates in the neighborhoods surrounding public housing apartment complexes. In addition, there is little documented evidence that public housing apartment complexes have a measurable effect on neighboring property values.

Opposing public housing projects in general, solely based on an expected increase in neighborhood crime and lower property values, is to oppose these projects based on urban myths and contemporary folklore.

It is the job, the duty, of elected officials to help educate the public on these issues. Elected officials must have the courage to approach voters with facts and research, even during the heat of an argument. This is why I am disappointed with our local county board voting against a specific housing project without much public education.

That said, residents have the right, even the responsibility, to voice their opinions and concerns. City and Rockford Housing Authority officials must address these concerns as best they can, whether the concerns are regarding crime, property values, traffic or parking. As one county board member pointed out to me, there may not be enough parking allocated for the new residents. Street parking alone is not adequate, especially since the new police station across the street will generate quite a bit of traffic too.

We cannot “transform” Rockford without the participation of and creative ideas of the local residents. An editorial taking these residents to task does not advance the goal of creative public housing solutions.

Honest, educated debate is needed. Address the residents’ concerns or present them with data on other creative public housing projects in the United States, or both.

Paul Gorski (paul@paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!