The Times Shows That Public Housing Perpetuates Poverty

One of the hallmarks of the Manhattan mentality is the inability to draw the most obvious inferences from the facts in front of your eyes.  I have often accused Manhattan groupthinkers of flat refusal to get outside their cushy homes and offices and walk around town, thinking that if they actually walked around and observed things they could not help but draw the obvious conclusions.  Well, it's really too much to ask them to walk around, but how about putting a chart of data in front of their eyes?  No, that won't work either:  it seems that even if data on what's going on are collected and presented in a very clear fashion, a Manhattan groupthinker will continue to grasp tightly to his preconceptions in the face of the evidence.

A great example of this phenomenon appeared in yesterday's Sunday New York Times, where the Metropolitan Section had a front-page article titled "In Chelsea, A Great Wealth Divide."  The article contains a map of income data for the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.  I have copied it below.  I apologize that not all of the text from the original has come over in my copying.  (You can see the original at the link.)

Here's what you need to know to understand the map.  The map covers an area of the southwest part of Manhattan Island, from approximately West 12th Street at the south, to West 35th Street at the north, and from Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue) on the east to the Hudson River on the west.  The farthest south street that goes straight across the map is West 13th Street.  The colors indicate median income by block, as of 2013.  Pink means median income below $30,000; gray means median income between $30,000 and $100,000; and blue means median income above $100,000.  The little circles indicate recent home sales above $1 million.

Median income by block in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, 2013.  Pink = under $30,000; blue = over $100,000; gray = between the two. 

So what are those pink areas plunked in right next to the blue?  You guessed it -- they are the low income public housing.  Well, not quite exactly, but very close.  They've actually drawn in the footprints of the public housing buildings.  The more northerly pink area contains the Elliott-Chelsea Houses, and the more southerly holds the Robert Fulton Houses.  You can see that the Fulton Houses extend two blocks beyond the southern pink area to 19th Street, into two blocks with expensive new condos on their western portion, causing those blocks to turn gray.  The two pink blocks south of the Fulton Houses are very commercial, and I'm not sure anybody actually lives there.  One of them is a shopping center/office building called the Chelsea Market.  (OK, there are a few anomalies on this map.  The block containing the full-block New York headquarters of Google appears in gray.  I don't think anybody lives in that block either.  The same goes for the block containing the full-block Macy's department store on 34th Street, which appears in blue.)

So what conclusions can we draw from this?  Let's start with the trivial -- that the rich and the poor live right next to each other in Chelsea.  Yes, at the New York Times they can figure that one out, calling this the "great wealth divide."  But how about a few things almost as obvious?

  • Does living next to rich people help the poor rise up from poverty?  The idea that living next to the rich helps the poor rise up from poverty is the underlying concept of the current big push from HUD to get wealthy communities around the country to accept more public housing.  I covered that recently here.  There couldn't be a more compelling demonstration that it doesn't work than this map.  What say you, New York Times? :

Today’s Chelsea, the swath west of Avenue of the Americas between 14th and 34th Streets, could be the poster neighborhood for what Mayor Bill de Blasio calls the tale of two cities. While the average household income in Chelsea has climbed exponentially, the income at Elliot Houses, the housing project where Ms. Waters lives, has remained more or less steady.   

If the income of those in public housing remains "steady"  for several decades while the income of increasingly affluent people right next door "climbs exponentially," isn't it one hundred percent obvious that living next door to the affluent is not helping the poor to rise from poverty?  So why not draw that obvious conclusion?  But they won't.

  • Does subsidized public housing perpetuate poverty?  Just look at the map, for heaven's sake!  There's literally nobody left in this area at poverty-level income except those in public housing, but their income has remained "steady" (at poverty levels) for decades.  This neighborhood is loaded with thousands of the highest-paying jobs in the country.  They have the New York headquarters of Google right across the street from the Fulton Houses.  Here's the closest the Times comes to addressing this subject:

But jobs for local residents have not materialized to the extent expected, residents and local officials said. “When you have some of the best known, best paying companies in the United States located in Chelsea,” said Councilman Johnson, “it’d be ideal to try to get young people who are from low-income families to offer paid internships, job training and jobs to get them involved so they could stay in the neighborhood they grew up in.”          

They just have a mentality that the people who live in the projects are life-long charity cases with no ability to act for themselves, and "we" must help "them" with handouts, whether that be the housing or the jobs or whatever.

Anyway, the Times manages to get through it's whole long article without ever mentioning the painfully obvious role of the public housing itself in perpetuating the poverty in the midst of plenty.  But a reader looking at their chart would literally have to be in a coma to miss that.