War on the River District & North Sacramento

Which, by changing a few words, could have been the opening line of this article from the New York Post about the degradation of an area through the concentration of social services.

An excerpt.

“The social-services industry’s war on the Upper West Side slows, but it never ends.

“Just last week, Robert Hess of the homeless-housing group Aguila informed Community Board 7 that he means to build a 400-person “super shelter” on West 95th Street.

So what? you say. The neighborhood has never looked better.

“I agree — and I’ve lived there most of my life.

“Yet I recall how, starting in the 1970s, the neighborhood descended into chaos — because a coalition of politically connected developers, nonprofits, labor unions and government agencies did its utmost to turn the area into a dispensary for social services.

“Under cover of compassionate rhetoric, the social-services industry used public funds to turn the Upper West Side’s private residential buildings into welfare hotels, homeless shelters, halfway houses and methadone clinics — inundating the neighborhood with crime, homelessness and drug abuse.

“Today, the balance has tilted toward gentrification, but several recent reversals show that we can’t take the gains for granted.

“Whenever real estate stagnates, the industry spies an opening. In a depressed housing market, it has greater purchasing power. Back in the 1990s recession, New York magazine declared, “Small business is no longer the dominant industry on the Upper West Side. Homelessness is.” The city was going broke, yet there was “explosive growth of the social-service sector.”

“The influx of undesirable new residents drove rent-paying tenants out of their apartments. The worst off were forced into the streets and thus into the hands of the homelessness industry — which housed them at four times the cost, sometimes in the same buildings they’d been driven out of in the first place.

“The rising disorder helped the industry buy up Upper West Side housing more easily. The obvious public presence of a mentally ill population also let politicians claim that the need for social services was growing. In fact, the rise of the social-services agencies was what had introduced that population in the first place.

“Lately, the industry has zeroed in on the neighborhood’s SROs — buildings with “single-room occupancy” apartments. It aims to import and house the most destructive populations it can find — like people with both mental-health problems and drug dependency, a dual diagnosis known in the industry as MICA (for “mentally ill, chemically addicted”).

“Placing a MICA population in what is known as “supportive housing” secures the highest possible government funding. The agencies also plant these profoundly troubled new residents alongside the remaining SRO tenants to drive them out.

“Aaron Biller, president of the local group Neighborhood in the Nineties, describes the fight as a game of Whac-A-Mole: The industry pops up in one building after another.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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