What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Port? Jobs? Housing? The Chicken, the Egg, and Scarcity Mentality . . . Again

by Ana Maria

Along with the blazing hot sun here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the debate over whether to fund lower income housing or to fund the repair and expansion of the local port has been heating up like nobody’s business.

There’s something fundamentally wrong, though with the way that this debate has been framed. It smacks of the scarcity mentality, and I myself have fallen prey to it. Whether to provide funding for housing or for job creation falsely pits against each other two important aspects of rebuilding our Gulf Coast community. We need both housing and jobs.

The truth is we need the port to be rebuilt. We need the good paying jobs with good benefits that the port itself can provide. And, we need those jobs now.

We also need the spin off businesses that come from rebuilding and reopening a robust port. Besides, the port is part of the economic engine not only for the Mississippi Gulf Coast but also for the entire state of Mississippi.

Housing advocates may ask this question.

What’s the point of investing in the port if the workers needed to construct it then to operate it have no place to live because housing is scarce?
Port advocates may ask this one.
What’s the point of having plenty of housing for anyone who wishes to live here if the economy is so anemic that good paying jobs with benefits are few and far between?
Chicken, egg, chicken, egg. It's still the same old scarcity argument.

Now, we’re not the only area in the nation that grapples with the issues of economic and housing development.

Out in Silicon Valley, Calif., where I used to live, housing—particularly affordable housing—remains a constant need. South of San Jose, the tenth largest city in the nation, remains a large and undeveloped area called Coyote Valley. Plenty of plans over the years have created what will surely be one of the most beautifully planned areas in the nation. State of the art public transportation corridors with neighborhood parks, grocery shopping, and heath care offices nestled around various housing configurations—condos, apartments, large/small single family homes, and the like.

Developing this fabulous community is intended to provide plenty of much needed housing with nearby jobs all of which will offload traffic from the rest of the horrifically congested area.

The development trigger for Coyote Valley? Jobs. Thousands of jobs. How can businesses build if its going to require its employees to travel two or more hours round trip EVERY DAY. So round and round the discussion continues. Jobs, housing, jobs, housing. Meanwhile improving the area’s housing situation remains a distant mirage, and traffic continues to clog every artery in the area anyway.

It’s the age-old “chicken or the egg” argument.

But here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we can’t afford to wait years for either our jobs or housing needs to be resolved.

We can choose to advocate for both, and we can do so vociferously. Leaders on each side of these important post-Katrina rebuilding efforts can and should push for both simultaneously. They can embrace the other side while advocating their own position.

Port advocates can say, “We need the port funding. This is an important economic recovery issue for the Gulf Coast business community and the families depending on the port for jobs. Of course, we also need the housing crisis to be solved NOW. Where are our workers going to house themselves and their families? We can take care of our families’ job and housing needs. Let’s do both together.”

Housing advocates can say, “We the housing funding for low income and rental housing here along the Gulf Coast. Of course, those families that want to return to living here will also need good paying jobs with benefits. Where will these families find work? Katrina devastated businesses and housing alike. Rebuilding of the port is an important part of our economic recovery. We can take care of our families’ job and housing needs. Let’s do both together.”

How powerful that would be. The animosity could begin to dissipate. We can reach across the aisle, find the common ground, and become stronger advocates for our collective recovery.

Buying into the idea that one must take precedence over the other isn’t helpful. We need the good paying jobs that the port provides and the spin off businesses that will come as a result of the construction and subsequent operation of the port.

We need affordable housing for rent and for lower income families.

We simply need both.

Anyway, isn’t ours the most wealthy, most powerful, most generous nation in the world? We can do it all. This is the United States of America.

As we act like we can do it all, as we talk in terms of expecting that we will do both simultaneously, we'll surprise ourselves at the political will and the resources that can begin to flow our way.

© 2008 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.

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