Development for and of the People

Bank bailout or abolition?

By Jesse Call

Photo by Jon Hughes/photopresse

Is self-worth tied to work? For advocates participating in a recent community forum at Xavier University, the common thread among their perspectives was how the government can better the livelihoods of those experiencing poverty and homelessness by diverting funds to activities that will create jobs. That way, people will find value in making a contribution to their community.

On April 5 Xavier University Students for Economic Justice, an organization promoting education and fair trade, hosted “Urbanomics Panel: Controversial Topics in Cincinnati Urban Development.”

The panel consisted of Dan La Botz, a Socialist candidate running to represent Ohio in the U.S. Senate; Rob Goeller, human-rights outreach coordinator for the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless; and Vlasta Molak, executive director of the Gaia Foundation. The panelists answered a range of questions from a student moderator before the audience was allowed to ask questions.

The panelists agreed that local government is wasting resources on community development projects that could be used for jobs creation to help the unemployed and underemployed.

“Charity is bad for people,” La Botz said. “We don’t want handouts. They want a job. They want to contribute to society and have an identity.”

Jobs created under existing community-development projects are often temporary and don’t make a lasting impact on Cincinnati neighborhoods, the panelists said. In addition, developers don’t give preference to residents for these jobs, allowing them to go to outsiders.

“These are jobs that don’t do anything for the community,” Molak said. “There should be a link between work in a community and jobs. That link is not clear in this society. … There is not much attempt made to help people learn trades and then create jobs that would actually do something useful in this city.”

Instead, the money should be used to rehabilitate homes in places such as Reading Road, as that would better benefit the citizens of Cincinnati, Molak suggested.

“There are all these beautiful empty buildings in Over-the-Rhine,” she said.

“There is no reason there should be 3,000 empty buildings in Cincinnati and no reason why we should have at any one time 900 homeless.”

Molak criticized the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) and other downtown interests.

“The city council members have delegated their brains to 3CDC because they think these people know better. …They build stadiums and they don’t fix things in the community that needs to be fixed,” she said.

The answer is for the community to take a stand and demand jobs, La Botz said.

“What has to happen – there has to be a social upheaval from below in this country,” he said. “It would be the best thing to build a movement of the working class people of this city and help to set them in motion.”

But not everyone in the audience was buying in to the idea that jobs creation was a solution.

“Americans generally need to recalibrate their expectations,” said one audience member who identified himself as experiencing homelessness. “You live in a society which your parents created. Their expectations might be unrealistic. You have competition that they never experienced or anticipated. … I don’t know if jobs should be the end-all in this country.”

One audience member asked the panelists, “Demand jobs from who?”

All the panelists explained that they felt the government should create jobs, even if this means increased taxes.

All the panelists also agreed that organizations such as 3CDC try to make it look as if they take the needs and viewpoints of community members into consideration and have made redevelopment a democratic process. But that is where it ends, according to the panelists: Meetings at which input is solicited are simply “smokescreens” at which developers “put up a façade” that they care about input from the neighborhoods they are changing.

La Botz accused developers of engaging in “ethnic cleansing and class cleansing” to remove people of color and people experiencing poverty from Cincinnati neighborhoods.

“These are not democratic processes anywhere,” he said. “We live in a society where banks rule. I think the banks and corporations which dominate our society are institutions that have outlived their time. We have to become the abolitionists of the corporations to become a democratic nation.”