Friday, January 9, 2015

A Plague in Our House

Forget the ten things we love about Norfolk. Or the five things Millennials want us to love about them because they lack our undying love.  

Let's examine real issues instead of self-induced delusions and self-centered selfies. Let's concentrate on two very important things that plague every city. They are low wages and affordable housing. 

Low wages led to the causes of hunger and lack of affordable housing led to an increase in homelessness, according to a report issued by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Norfolk is a member of the Conference and participated in the annual survey.

This is poverty, folks. This is America, folks. This could be Park Place, Berkeley or Lamberts Point. It could be the fringe of Ocean View, Norview or the entire east side of Norfolk. It even afflicts a swathe of Ghent.

It's a plague on our house, yet we believe it's not our house. We believe it's someone else's house, that someone else should deal with this plague.

In Camus' The Plague, people in the fictional town of Oran, divided by religion, race and class, find solidarity in combating a mysterious and moribund plague affecting everyone, regardless of their money, status or thinking. Only in solidarity does the town survive. Yet discord is also a plague. 

The report differs not by much from previous reports. People are hungry and people are homeless, despite the goodwill of government, religious organizations and other social justice groups. But this isn't about social justice. This is about a living wage and a reasonable rent for shelter. This is about helping the popolo minuto.

Some of the findings:
Findings on Hunger – Seventy-one percent of the cities in this year’s survey reported that requests for emergency food assistance increased over the past year. Of those requesting assistance, 56 percent were persons in families, 38 percent were employed, 20.5 percent were elderly, and 7 percent were homeless.

Low wages led the list of causes cited by the survey cities, followed by poverty, unemployment, and high housing costs.

Findings on Homelessness – Overall, the total number of homeless persons increased across the survey cities by 1 percent.

The number of families experiencing homelessness increased by an average of 3 percent. Across the survey cities as a group, 28 percent of homeless adults were severely mentally ill, 22 percent were physically disabled, 15 percent were victims of domestic violence, and 3 percent were HIV Positive. 

Eighteen percent of homeless adults were employed and 13 percent were veterans. For families with children, the single leading cause of homelessness cited by city officials was lack of affordable housing, followed by unemployment, poverty, and low-paying jobs.

For unaccompanied individuals, lack of affordable housing also topped the list of causes of homelessness, followed by unemployment, poverty, mental illness and lack of needed services, and substance abuse and lack of needed services.
Read the report here. 

All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant's revolving door.
Albert Camus

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Slover Library Parking A Dodgy Issue

Nothing is free in life, not even public library parking.

For decades, Norfolk’s library on City Hall Avenue, formerly known as Kirn Memorial, offered free parking.

What would Mr Franklin think? 
Come in and stay awhile. Don’t worry because we’ll validate your parking ticket. Free parking was a draw. Even with free parking, Norfolk’s downtown library, at its present site, The Seaboard Building, was an echo chamber of silence.

Parking had to be free or no one would really visit the library. In the Seaboard Building, the homeless hid downstairs hooked to computers; upstairs, a few stragglers, myself included, meandered through the sparse shelves seeking hidden teasures on the shelves. 

More often than not library personnel outnumbered patrons on any given day. (Disclosure: I did run into Chuck McPhillips more than once.)

Parking had to be free or otherwise you couldn’t find a space to park or if you did the city's ticket taggers, those delightful trolls who offer bland and baffling resistance to your weepy and ineffectual pleas, enforced the parking restrictions with military precision.

The Col. Samuel L. Slover Memorial Library, costing $64 million, give or take a few million here and there, opens this Friday, Jan. 9.

Indeed, the Slover Library is a precious gift to the community, an architectural blend of tradition and novelty and a fusion of the present with the future.

Yet for all that and less, there is this. And that is that if you want to visit the library, you will have to pay to park somwehere in downtown Norfolk. If you can't find a parking space, even during the free periods, you will have to park in a garage, for a charge.

It may seem trivial but it really is monumental. 

On Norfolk Public Library's Facebook page, someone asked if the library would validate parking tickets. The response is lucid in its opacity.

The Library joins a host of popular downtown destinations and restaurants in our vibrant, urban core. These locations, including Nauticus and City Hall, do not offer free parking,” the Norfolk Public Library avatar said.

The sense of this justification is senseless. 

Yes, there is the “vibrant, urban core.” But there are also vibrant neighborhoods where libraries flourish and anyone can park for free. This is basic economics. Libraries flourish throughout the city. The Slover has competition for patrons. Should I drive downtown, try to find parking and pay for parking when can I easily and freely park at a library elsewhere in the city?

The rest of this exchange has been copied from the NPL's Facebook page and pasted at the bottom of this column.

Garner Goingson
Excited about the new Slover! Parking - will you be validating parking tickets for Norfolk lots and MacArthur Center? Inquiring minds (lots of them) want to know!
Like · Reply · January 1 at 8:25am
Norfolk Public Library
We are excited about Slover Library as well! The Library joins a host of popular downtown destinations and restaurants in our vibrant, urban core. These locations, including Nauticus and City Hall, do not offer free parking.
We encourage patrons to park and ride the Tide to MacArthur Square or use the many convenient parking garages, such as MacArthur Center. There is also free on-street parking downtown after 6pm on weekdays, free two hour on-street parking on Saturdays and free on-street parking all day on Sundays.
Like · January 2 at 1:12pm
Garner Goingson
Nice dodge, but my question asked if the Slover library would validate parking. I can assume the answer is no from your response, but wouldn't it have been more honest to just say so? Your suggestions all require $$$. What happened to free library?
Like · January 2 at 1:38pm

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn. 
-Ben Franklin

Monday, January 5, 2015

Are you feeling lucky, punk?

Most students think university professors are unbearable or maybe tolerable.

Now students might have to bear professors bearing guns, provided they are concealed.

Delegate Bob Marshall, a Republican's Republican, beneficiary of the NRA and the National Federation of Independent Business, wants to make it happen.

Bob's bill, HB 1411, proposes that faculty members of Virginia's institutes of higher education, an implausible and impious description, can pack some heat on campus.

In a legislature controlled by Republicans, it is more than just likely, though not entirely certain, that the bill will sluice through the legislature and wreck on the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a democrat.

It may wreck but not because of McAuliffe. 

The measure would lift a prohibition on weapons on campuses though not everyone would be able to freely foist a gun, according to the bill. The bill is very specific about nonspecific details.

Sorry adjuncts, you can't carry one. Sorry instructors, you can't carry one either. Sorry administrative staff, you are excluded, as well. Only full-time faculty members will be able to holster a gun before they can sling it.

Here again, full-fledged professors will enjoy the right to be right though most of them think they are already right.

Ah, the sting of elitism.

Del Marshall assumes, quite wrongly, that full-time faculty can shoot a gun though he assumes, quite rightly, that they can fondle a gun.

Many professors, I imagine, would spend hours describing in excruciating and irritating detail a gun as a symbol of male paternalism, as the worst in patriarchy and an example of gender-based blood lust.

Others might describe a gun in mechanistic or stochastic terms and language or marvel at its efficient killing power and elucidate in several peer reviewed papers the physical and chemical properties of its power.

Even better, some professors might see the gun, any gun, as the militarization of America and the dwindling power of American citizens.

Dirty Harry resonates in the Virginia legislature.

I have one question for you. Are you feeling lucky today, punk?”

Such a question might be asked by a gun-toting professor of an unarmed student. The student, trembling with fear, might urinate on the pristine professor's leg with fear.

Quite a scenario.

Unless a student had a gun, as well.

Which makes the bill somewhat inequitable, don't you think?

In America, everyone has the right to bear arms, according to the Second Amendment of the Constitution, but only in some places.

Those places don't include institutes of higher education. Yet Del Bob wants to change the rules. But the rules aren't for everyone.

Quite the contrary.

You have to wonder if this a tenure thing: get tenure, carry a concealed weapon.

Go on, say it.

Go ahead, make my day.”

Note: Delegate Mark Berg, a Republican introduced a similar bill, HB 1389

Quotes courtesy of Dirty Harry.

We are
Born like this
Into this
Into these carefully mad wars
Into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness
Into bars where people no longer speak to each other
Into fist fights that end as shootings and knifings
Born into this
Into hospitals which are so expensive that it’s cheaper to die
Into lawyers who charge so much it’s cheaper to plead guilty
Into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
Into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes” 
― Charles Bukowski

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Up In Smoke: Norfolk's Public Housing

No Smoking signs could be posted on Norfolk's public housing by next year.

Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing authority officials want to ban smoking “to protect non-smoking residents from secondhand smoke, prevent cigarette fires and reduce the cost of rehabbing a vacant apartment.”

The policy, if approved, would prohibit the smoking of cigarettes, pipes, electronic cigarettes and marijuana on housing authority properties.

The proposal was presented to the housing authority 7-member board of commissioners Wednesday, Oct. 29. No vote was taken on the draft policy. 

Should the board approve the citywide policy, it would take effect July 1, 2015.

The prohibition would follow the nationwide trend in no smoking policies in government office buildings and private offices, bars and restaurants and in many cases rental properties.
In fiscal year 2010, 3,115 households, totaling 7,772 residents, lived in 11 government subsidized communities owned and managed by the housing authority, according to an economic impact study done by the William & Mary Mason School of Business in 2011.

Yet the policy would be more restrictive than no smoking policies in and around private rentals. Smoking would be prohibited, according to the policy, inside all housing authority properties, within 25-feet of a housing authority building and in a vehicle within 25-feet of an NRHA owned building.
NRHA spends three-quarters of its $90 million budget on housing, all of which is funded by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.

According to HUD, as of January 2012, more than 250 public housing authorities have prohibited smoking. There are approximately 1.2 million households living in public housing units, managed by some 3,300 housing authorities, HUD estimates.

HUD has “strongly” encouraged public housing authorities, as well as owners and managers of Section 8 housing, a federal program to subsidize a portion of rent, to adopt smoke free policies since 2009. Yet the federal agency has stopped short of issuing a mandate to housing authorities. 

Residents who violate the policy will receive two warnings. Residents will receive a verbal warning for the first violation and a letter for the second violation. A third violation results in a mandatory meeting. Residents who fail to show up at the meeting may have their lease terminated.

The prohibition applies to residents, members of the household, guests, service providers and contractors. The policy doesn't exclude smokers as tenants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report last year, saying that smoke-free subsidized housing would save $521 million a year.

The bulk of those annual savings – $341 million – would come from reduced health care expenditures related to secondhand smoke, the CDC said in a prepared statement. The study also estimates savings of $108 million in annual renovation expenses and $72 million in annual smoking-related fire loses, the CDC said.

Studies have shown that people who live in multi-unit housing can be particularly affected by unwanted secondhand smoke exposure, the CDC said. Other studies have shown that most people who live in subsidized housing favor smoke-free policies, according to the CDC.

"This new study reinforces the importance of the Housing and Urban Development initiative to promote the adoption of smoke-free housing policies in public housing and other federally-assisted multifamily housing," said Sandra Henriquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing. 

"We have seen considerable momentum in the number of public housing agencies across the country adopting this policy, which saves health and housing costs, in places like Boston, San Antonio, Seattle, and all public housing in the state of Maine."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Reinvention of Hampton Roads

Scene one, take 999.

That is the best way to describe the latest regional initiative: Reinvent Hampton Roads, an invention born of the well-meaning and well-endowed Hampton Roads Community Foundation, a regional non-profit whose missionary zeal to transform our poorly performing region into a much better performing metropolitan area has gained adherents and acolytes.

Gather together the leading starlets, start a discussion, meet on a regular basis, perhaps invite a moderator to the table, examine the strengths and weaknesses of the region, write and publish a report and stage an event.

Reinvent Hampton Roads is all that described above and more not less; but in its attempt to bring cohesion to the fractious politics and economy of the region, it may despair. For provincialism is the new normal of the region and regionalism is a dead word, an inert action and an intellectual exercise in futility.

 What Reinvent Hampton Roads lacks in provincialism, it gains in regionalism. That's a plus. And yet its regionalism must deal with the parochialism of the region. And that is the difficulty.

But give the group its due for an attempt to cohere the region.

If it takes another retake to get the people and policies off their collective backsides and accomplish something, anything, I applaud it. And they should take a bow, if only for the gesture.

Reinvent Hampton Roads has ambitious goals. They are threefold: creating great jobs; helping businesses and entrepreneurs thrive; and diversifying the region's economy.

Sensible enough: all of us want the same thing though some of us prefer something to nothing and in the region something is gradually eroding into nothing. Jobs are hardly overabundant, the business climate is stagnant and the economy rests on one shaky pillar: the government.

Phase one of this enterprise is finished. Phase two, taking action, is about to launch. What will happen post-launch will be noted later.

The action will take place Tuesday, Dec. 9, at the Westin Virginia Beach Town Center, starting at 7:30am. More information can be found here, here and here.

The panelists include:

Deborah M. DiCroce, President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation;

Paul O. Hirschbiel Jr., Vice President and CFO of The Memory Center;

Matt Mulherin, Corporate Vice President of Huntington Ingalls Industries/President of Newport News Shipbuilding;

Doug Smith, Virginia Beach Deputy City Manager;

John O. “Dubby” Wynne,Chairman of Hampton Roads Community Foundation, retired President and CEO of Landmark Communications Inc.

The themes of the conference are threefold: Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth. The tag line: A blueprint for building an economy to take us into the future.

The initiative is meant to inject some adrenalin into an otherwise anemic economy and an complacent if not lethargic population. But to accomplish something on a grand scale, a regional scale, everyone – every city, every politician and every civil servant – must jump on board.

Disruption is the key. Might it be accomplished? It could, if given the chance. 

Reinvent Hampton Roads is a start.


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