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.


reilly morse said...

Ana Maria,

We're talking about how to spend hurricane recovery money, right?

The port was worth $127 million when the storm struck.

The port was insured for $108 million.
The port has access to FEMA $$ to cover uninsured losses.
The port has $82 million in unencumbered cash.
The port has revenues, even now.
The port can issue bonds on revenues.

Given all this, there is no basis to claim that the $600 million is for repairs to the port. It is to realize a massive pre-Katrina expansion.

This expansion has nothing to do with Katrina. It is about economic opportunism.

The jobs from this port, direct maritime jobs, are not thousands upon thousands of jobs. It is 1,300 direct maritime jobs forecast over 10 years. That's $460,000 per job - many orders of magnitude over the allowable amount of $35,000 CDBG dollar spent per job. Barbour wants that condition waived.

If we want to expand the State Port to enable it to compete for increased Panama Canal traffic in a decade, then go to Congress and get the money for that.

Does it make sense to shift that money over to the port from housing when

the small rental program will restore only about 850 small rental units in your home county, which had almost 3,000 with major to severe damage.

rentals financed with tax-credits are not getting built.

wind-damaged homeowners are lining up for help from Hancock County Resource Center in numbers that make its executive director cry in front of a Congressional hearing?

It IS a scarcity argument, because MS is not going to be awarded additional Katrina recovery funds. But it could get additional port expansion funds.

Ana Maria said...


Yes, I live in the most devastated county with needs that make all of us cry. Here is where I grew up in a poor county in a family that had very meager economic resources. I live and breathe here and all I can say is that the kind of old guard in-your-face I'm-right/you're wrong approach hasn't been working for a while.

Perhaps my piece was a bit too subtle, but clearly that was one of my primary sentiments.

The typical left of center approach to a political problem is to throw out facts to support a position. However, facts are not what persuade us as humans. Need proof?

We all know the following facts:
Don't smoke.
Don't drink too much.
Exercise often.
Keep a lean body.
Don't eat red meat.
Eat more vegetables.
Sleep 8 hours a day.

Yet, look around in America and we can see plenty of evidence that the facts alone fail to persuade us.

So, while your factual dissertation is interesting to me personally, in and of itself your recitation here after all of these many months since Katrina is yet another clear demonstration that facts alone do not persuade folks to alter their course of action. This is a definitive case in point. Neither Haley Barbour nor Congressman Gene Taylor has been persuaded: one a Republican Governor living comfortably hundreds of miles away from Katrina's devastation . . . the other a Democratic Congressman who lost everything, fields thousands of calls for help, and has single-handedly taken on the insurance industry--and their political allies--to help our recovery.

I'm suggesting how we fight the fight be tweaked so we can win. It's the example that the Obama camp is demonstrating beautifully, imho. Words and tone matter. Images matter. Whether folks feel we're being understanding and reasonable matters.

I understand being wedded to fighting the same way for what we believe needs us. But when it doesn't work, we have to expand our repertoire. If all we have in our tool box is a hammer, though, everything looks like a nail. That can make us out to look like we're bulls in a china shop.

However, with a wider range of tools and more ways of reviewing how to achieve our goal, with increasing our sensitivity to the political reality facing us--including how our opponent can paint us in the media, we can prove to be more successful to those issues and people for whom we are expending our precious resources of time, knowledge, and energy.

I know that there is a brand of politics that likes to sit around and feel good about their tactics even though they are losing the battle. I'm suggesting re-evaluating and then implementing different tactic to be victorious and doing so in a way that increases the likelihood that we'll be more successful earlier in the game next time around.

Hope that clarifies what I had hoped would be inferred.
- am

reilly morse said...

Ana Maria,

We have discussed with the leaders you mention alternative ways to finance the port expansion - which would produce what? both port expansion and additional money for housing -exactly the outcome you endorse. Both moving forward. These proposals fell on deaf ears. So please cast the blame where it belongs.

Please, please, please do not present what we have been doing as some "typical left of center" tactic. We have attempted to persuade the governor to look at other ways to do what he talks about that would be a win-win.

Unfortunately the Governor is only prepared to consider one approach - writing a record breaking check to himself.

Nobody we talk to in Congress tells us any more money is likely to come to Mississippi for housing, especially not when we continue to divert it to other purposes like ports and marinas.

Our job situation does need improving, but there are all kinds of non-CDBG money incentives out there to make that happen. These include the GO Zone. We won't have alternatives to CDBG to solve the housing shortages in areas where developers and the private market forces don't want to go. That will be the empty, unrepaired house or slabbed lot down the street from you and me.

Ana Maria said...

You've made up your mind, and that is certainly your right.

Of course, I'm talking about public image which the Republicans have been exquisite at doing.

We on the Democratic side are a little slower on the uptake in that arena.

I know that there are plenty of hard working fantastic advocates for every kind of need here along the Gulf Coast and throughout the greater New Orleans area. Yourself included. God bless all of you. Our needs are great.

The fact is that you are attempting to hammer me without directly addressing the main point--that public image, careful verbiage to the media, etc. must be carefully managed to be successful in today's media-centric political environment. Publicly getting the image that you are for a win-win position. That, my friend, is not the public image that has been crafted and it needs to be cultivated religiously.

When we do that we will begin to see things move.

reilly morse said...

Ana Marie, sure a win-win message will work if you can get the right person to return the call. But politicians often don't respond unless their interests are threatened. You have to also apply pressure.

So, please, don't place all the fault for the black and white nature of this debate upon one side of this controversy.

Why not take a few paragraphs and explore the shortcomings of the other side's approach? Like framing it as restoration, when it is nothing to do with restoration. Like framing it as job creation, when the jobs are purchased at far too dear a price, like claiming the money was always intended to be used for the port, when Barbour testified to the contrary before the Senate.

Why not point out that Barbour is being as inflexible about this as you are accusing the opponents of being? And that when that is the case, it sets up a dynamic that makes it extremely difficult to get to the middle ground?

Ana Maria said...

The point is not about Barbour. The point is to focus on what we can do to be more successful. That it is at the tip of our tongue makes it rather accessible.

This piece discussed the need to deliberately recast the public debate in the media so that housing advocates can be in the driver's seat rather than not even able to get on the bus.

You and other leaders can help to recast the debate inside the media. How you talk, what you say, how you say it, where you say it, etc. and so forth, are important. Have two talking points and everyone says it over and over and over again. Forget the diatribe. Forget the charts and graphs. Forget the lengthy debates.

Use all the stuff that George Lakoff and Drew Westen have written about. We have to be more politically sophisticated in this highly complex political world of ours. Continuing to say the very same thing over and over and over again, this fact vs. that fact, Barbour did this and so on and so forth, is last century's way.

This is about finding ways to be more effective in the new era.

You are right that you have worked for years here on the coast in coalition work. That is part of your expertise.

I admit that I have not and that isn't what I'm bringing to the table. I have worked extensively in coalition politics in California and that--among other things--is what I'm drawing from.

Yeah, I'm a coastie who has worked extensively on three coasts: Gulf, West, and East.

I have learned well from working side-by-side some savvy political leaders such as labor leaders in California who also advocate for the poorest of the poor in terms of housing. They relied on being great inside the political arena, within the media realm, and of course, organizing an effective campaign for their goal, which most often included helping with low income housing. These leaders were highly effective.

When we impact how our side talks, walks, acts, etc., and we impact the political dance.

Whether on the dance floor or inside the political arena, the stronger partner controls the dance. When dancing with a sophisticated partner, one can suddenly find themselves left standing alone on the floor. Same in politics.

And in today's upload-it-to-YouTube, post-it-to-the-Internet media savvy world, understanding more than the facts of the situation requires the nuanced linguistical political rhythms so we can be more successful . . . then turn up the music for a great victory dance . . . two left feet and all.

New Orleans News Ladder said...

Welcome back Mz Thang!
Been missin'you in da'mornings.
Editilla~New Orleans News Ladder

Ana Maria said...

Thank ya! Hope to write a little more often than ever few months. ;)

Keep cool!

- am

reilly said...

FYI, NYT editorial supports effort to require MS to take care of housing first.

Ana Maria said...

If your point is that we need low income and rental housing, well, you already well know that I'm on board with that.

PR and Marketing sell positions, persuade voters, develop robust campaigns, kick off massive movements. Think of the Obama campaign. While he has plenty of positions on his site and from time to time, more now that we are in the general election mode, the man brilliantly stays in the mode of messaging: hope.

Unfortunately, my bandwidth to assist in understanding the paramount importance of PR and Marketing to being successful in the political arena can only go so far.

I'm talking PR and Marketing (i.e. messaging) which is how many folks on any side of any issue, service or product succeed beyond their wildest dreams . . . or not.

Fulwiler said...

Glad to read you again AM! You are right on that this is not an either-or situation but a both-and situation. We can have both affordable housing and economic development. I suspect RM is paid to advocate just one agenda, but for people who need not only a place to live but a job to pay for it, you're right, lets lose the scarcity mentality.

Ana Maria said...

Hey there! Thank so much for the lovely 'welcome back'!

I believe RM to be a tireless and sincere advocate for the social justice issues in which he is involved.

I hope my Creative Muses inspire me to write again soon.

In the meantime, thanks!!

- am

nowdoucit said...

Chicken and egg, AM? The problem with the housing issue is the Rooster - Insurance.

What low-moderate income families can afford to pay is less than actual cost of rental property with the increased cost of insurance post-Katrina.

When rent and/or house payment consumes most/all of take home pay, more rental property is not the answer.

Access to an adequate supply of affordable housing is - and always has been - a social justice issue. However, it's an injustice IMO to champion the cause without recognizing reality and offering realistic solutions.

As to the port.

It's a waste of money not to build back better than ever - the port or anything else.

The pace of rebuilding is slow and the cost is high - we knew that going in and in the current economy it's slower and more costly now and growing more so every day.

There's only one road to recovery and it's the one that puts the Coast on the fast track - one that creates a "present" that will require other coastal areas to play catch up over the next decade or two.

To pitch housing against the port ignores other critical gaps - more on those later but, for now, housing advocates need to do the math.

Welcome back!

Ana Maria said...

Howdy Noudocit!

You're absolutely right, particularly about the "fast track". After being here now 17 months, I'm just appalled at the snail's pace at which resources have been made available for us to recover. I recall how quickly things turned around after Camille. Granted, I was but a child of 10 when Camille hit. Still, the idea of recovery being an ongoing, s-l-o-w-e-r than snail's pace is not a part of any memory.

And, of course, the big ELEPHANT in the room is Big Insurance which has taken the wind out of recovery for residents, business owners and government as well. I have written so much on insurance that I just didn't feel like I needed to mention it, but perhaps I should have. ;)

Thanks so much for the lovely warm welcome. I'll see if I can reawaken my Creative Muses in the near future!

Have a Terrific Tuesday!

- am

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Tampa, FL !! It is also "blazing hot" here. Anyway, I read Slabbed often and I find it to be a very informative site; a "not afraid to hide under anyone's coattails site" (even for money) if you will.

I've been a Legal Secretary/Paralegal for 24 years and the last 20 yrs. I spent working directly for Attorney Chip Merlin (whose Blog I read daily).

Anyway, it's no secret - even here in Tampa, FL - that Chip (and the Merlin Law Group) represented the Port quite SOME TIME AGO (and you guys aren't up and running?). Heck, there are those of us that are even aware that the Merlin Law Group threw a "thank you" luncheon for the Port employees following the settlement - excuse me, I'm rambling.

Further, I'm safely assuming that the insurance recovery proceeds (following deductions for attorney's fees, costs, etc.,) left the Port w/a NET RECOVERY to get its business up and running again.

Unless the Port provided JOBS AND HOUSING prior to Katrina, it seems obvious that they should provide said housing. But, Ana, you're right - THIS IS AMERICA !! And, I just read your Blog again
(3rd time) and you make it abundantly clear that THIS IS AMERICA and, therefore, GOOD THINGS SHOULD HAPPEN. YOU'RE RIGHT, THEY SHOULD - BUT THEY DON'T.

And as Reilly Morse eloquently put it:

"...Unfortunately the Governor is only prepared to consider one approach - writing a record breaking check to himself."

How true - and that's not just true for the Gov. of yall's state either. There's enough states to go around for record breaking checks, attorney's fee checks, public adjuster checks, expert checks, etc., etc., etc.

I used to be an Idealist too Ana - but no more. It's a sad thing to have to feel this way, I know and I feel for you.

I learned one of the hardest lessons of my life several years ago and that's that loyalty, hard work, respect, dedication, etc., doesn't always mean ANYTHING. In fact, such attributes can serve as a deterrent because being around "for so long" entitles one to rights that others in a particular setting do not have and/or have earned and/or deserve(yet the loyal one righfully has). So what to do? Get rid of that person; like an empty box of tissues; an empty glass of water, etc.

So "THIS IS AMERICA" feeling you have is (in my opinion) is no more. The majority (i.e., GREED) rules and the minority (i.e., NICE PEOPLE) wonder why.

I could go on and on, but I promise to be back in future posts. :)



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Jhon smith said...

thanks for the information.. most of the doubts gets cleared in your and reilly's discussion...