Housing Fight Concerns More than Affordability

children not welcome seniors only
Map: Google Maps. Title added in Canva.

I opened the local newspaper yesterday and read that my town is embroiled in a legal battle over affordable housing. (I’m going to quote heavily because the article will be behind a paywall soon.)

The nonprofit advocacy group alleges that the Township Council is trying to skirt its affordable housing obligations by claiming there isn’t enough vacant space for substantially more low-income homes or apartments, even though the Planning Board recently approved the development of two large age-restricted housing projects. Neither included affordable units.

The spokesman for the Fair Share Housing Center noted that Delran is “intent on locking out working families.”

But the mayor’s comment reveals that there’s more to the story.

“We felt those (age-restricted communities) would have a minimal impact on schools and be good for Delran,” Mayor Ken Paris said Thursday.

This is all about the impact on the schools–it’s not really about affordability at all.

My town doesn’t want to add any housing that might wind up housing children.

And they’re not ashamed to say so.

From what I’ve seen in the past, few towns are interested in building houses that are not age-restricted. No one wants to add children to the school population.

Council President Gary Catrambone said the township has been working for years to keep development at a minimum to help control property taxes and school overcrowding.

That’s their plan for keeping taxes down (a plan which, by the way, isn’t working out so well here): they’ll welcome children only to existing housing. People who want to buy brand-new houses will have to find some other town in which to live.

That plan says a lot about the local government’s priorities (and the priorities of the people who run local government and the people who voted for the mayor and town council.

Delran officials countered that their intent in approving age-restricted housing was to keep the township affordable by expanding its tax base without overburdening the school system with new children.

In a town that’s full of playgrounds and soccer fields (and building more of both all the time), no one seems too eager to welcome the children who would use those amenities. If this trend continues, it won’t be long before our playgrounds turn into dog parks.

Dogs–and seniors–are still welcome here, after all.

Children are the future; there doesn’t seem to be much future here.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

The Lost Boys

What IS it with the kids on this block?

There are four boys on my street who are the same age as Little Brother.  I call them the Street Urchins.  They wind up here a lot, perhaps because I’m the one who lets them in.

They know that if they play at my house, they’ve got to play by my rules.  Street Urchins who drop the f-bomb in my family room get sent home.  That’s me, the Mean Mommy.

This morning, I mentioned to TheDad that last night one of the boys’ moms had come here looking for him about an hour after his sisters picked him up.  That’s when he told me that he’d heard there were marital problems in that household, and this boy might be moving soon.

One of the other boys lives with his mom and older siblings.  His parents have been on-and-off separated for several years now.  His dad, though, stays involved and is a Cub Scout leader.

I don’t really know much about the new kid on the block, other than the fact that his parents just opened their second pizzeria.  He seems to be on his own quite a bit.

And then there’s Adventure Boy, who (like his 3 older siblings) is being raised by his grandparents though his mom lives across town.  Sometimes he goes there.  Sometimes he spends a few hours with his dad, and his grandmother reports that the custody issues aren’t pretty.  He’s been left to his own devices since he was a preschooler.

A week or so ago, two of these boys knocked on my door at 8:20 on a school night, looking to play with Little Brother.  Ten minutes.  That’s all I gave them.  Who lets their kids out at 8:20 on a school night?  Who lets their kids disappear after school, never looking for them until they have a baseball game or soccer practice?  Who doesn’t call their kids home until after 8 (if then)–kids who have been out since 4 or earlier, who haven’t been fed dinner, who haven’t been nagged about homework?

Sometimes I think I should stop calling them the Street Urchins and refer to them as the Lost Boys.

I’ve ranted about these kids again and again and again.  I resent being Mommy to the whole block.  This isn’t what I signed up for.

After yesterday’s Cheese Ball Debacle, in which two of the Street Urchins thought it would be fun to toss Utz cheese balls into each other’s mouths, and then pulverized the ones that missed–all over my back porch–I was more than a little bit hot under the collar.  They come here, make a mess, help themselves to snacks and drinks, make a mess, kick soccer balls at my pool filter and front door, make a mess, and (apparently) never have to go home.  And I resent that.  A lot.

I plan to come down hard on the Street Urchins next time they show up, about the cheese balls.  That is disrespectful to me and to my home, and wasteful of food.  If I’d found the mess before they left, they would have been the ones out on the porch with the ShopVac.  Instead, it was Little Brother.

But after TheDad mentioned that yet another Street Urchin is dealing with problems at home, my heart melted just a little bit.  These kids need what they’re not getting at home, I realized.  None of them is in a situation of his own making.

I was wondering, the other day, if refusing to buy Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and Starbucks lattes really does any good.  I’m not convinced that it does.  And while I’m happy to be able to afford the big box of diapers every month that I donate to a local crisis-pregnancy center (and I will continue to do so), that effort is a drop in the bucket.

What I need to do is give where it really counts, and that means giving until it hurts.  That means putting up with the Street Urchins and continuing to remind them that baseballs are not Pool Toys and sending them home when the streetlights go on.  It means welcoming them, but setting (and sticking to) limits.  It means praying for them.  It means doing the right thing even when I don’t feel like it; even when I’m cranky and resentful and feeling put-upon.  Maybe especially then.

Honestly, this may be the most pro-life thing I can do right now.

In your charity today, please offer a prayer (or several) for the Lost Boys.

They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore

This morning TheDad and I are on our way to a funeral in our old neighborhood.

When we bought our first home, we were one of only two or three young families on the block.  Most of our neighbors were retired military.  Although it was hard not to have kids around for Big Brother to play with–and I didn’t know anyone else with kids, since we were brand-new to the area code, we had lovely neighbors.

The people across the street, with the well-tended home, were “Mr. John” and “Miss Martha” to Big Brother.  Mr. John had served over 25 years in the Marines, including deployments during two wars.  He was in his late sixties by the time we moved in to the neighborhood.

Every day, Mr. John inspected every inch of his yard and sidewalk, sweeping up leaves and bits of trash.  He always had a friendly word as I wandered by with the stroller, taking Big Brother and, later, Middle Sister, for a walk around town.

The only things that were ever out of place in his immaculately-groomed yard were the plastic Easter eggs–filled with pocket change and dollar bills–that he strewed around every Easter before his grandkids came for dinner.  In the fall, a leaf would barely hit the ground before Mr. John had swept it up.

TheDad has always looked forward to their Christmas card, which is less a card than a booklet filled with inspirational stories and poems.  After receiving it, he’d give them a call and see how they were doing.  He’d also call after every snowstorm–and once or twice he just drove to the old neighborhood to help Mr. John shovel his driveway and walk.  And we’d run into them at our church carnival and Polish dinner, because they loved the pierogi!

Today we’ll say farewell to the man who, with his wife, took care of five-year-old Big Brother so I could bring Middle Sister to the ER for stitches in her forehead when she cut it on the edge of the coffee table; who always took time out of his sweeping or raking or mowing or relaxing in a lawn chair to come down the driveway and greet us as we passed on our many walks through the neighborhood.

Rest in peace, Mr. John.  We were blessed to have a neighbor like you.

The Village People

No, not those Village People. I’m talking about the ones who wind up raising a child whose family cannot, or will not, raise him, even though he lives in their home. I’m talking about the families on my block who are that Village for Adventure Boy.

Lately I have read two books about a little girl who, like Adventure Boy, was pretty much on her own from the time she could walk (A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch, both by Haven Kimmel). If it were not for her neighbors she wouldn’t have had many regular meals, baths, or clean clothing. I don’t believe that Adventure Boy’s situation is that extreme; his lack appears to be in the area of attention and supervision. Yet I could certainly see from her writing that she needed (and ultimately appreciated) the care and attention she got from her neighbors.

But what about the neighbors? What you don’t see in those books is the attitude of the grownups who had to take the place of this child’s parents. You don’t hear them whispering about the role they were playing in this child’s life. You don’t know if they resented having to take care of another child. You don’t know if they sighed when that child appeared at their home before 8 AM, planning to stay the day. Did they react like I did the other day when Adventure Boy helped himself to a yogurt from my back-porch refrigerator and left the door wide-open on a summerlike afternoon, until I found it two hours later? Did they react like my neighbor did when she found Adventure Boy had let himself into her house without knocking, so he could play with Cutie Pie and Little Brother? Did they agonize over what will happen in a few weeks when the pool opens up, because there is no way they want to be responsible for an extra-adventurous five-year-old at a swimming pool? Did they breathe a quick prayer to that little one’s guardian angel every time he sailed across the street on his bike without looking for cars?

My head wants to say that I am not my brother’s keeper. Then my heart reminds me where that sentence led.

So where’s the boundary line? Where do I draw it? What would the Village People do?

I don’t know how to figure it out, but until I do, I’ll be doling out those toaster waffles and cups of apple juice–because what else can I do for this child who’s been bringing his favorite blanket here these past couple of days?