Saturday, June 12, 2021


This past week saw a robust discussion of the word "healthy" in Wake County. The topic this week concerned affordable housing placement. But the discussion among local progressives concerning the word "healthy" certainly opened our eyes. 

As background, Raleigh City Councillor Patrick Buffkin spoke about the building and location of affordable housing:

"Another benefit of having mixed incomes in these developments is you build a more healthy community," Buffkin said towards the end of the meeting. "What Mayor Schewel said when he talked to us was, 'Don't build projects that house only poor people.' These are places that are devoid of hope. There are very few role models for the children that live there and a much better way for the community is to have this mix of incomes, people from different backgrounds, people from different means helping each other to learn how to live together."

The IndyWeek provides a good synopsis which we would encourage you to read. 

Councillor Buffkin's comments provoked a flurry of rebuttals. 

Raleigh Planning Commission Member Nicole Bennett stated

"I need to take a brief break from my celebration to address an issue that came up at yesterday's City Council work session, where a councilmember stated that poor communities are devoid of hope and lack good role models. I sent a letter to our esteemed Mayor and Councilmembers and I'm reposting it here.
Good afternoon, Mayor Baldwin and Members of the Raleigh City Council:
First, thank you for the honor of serving the citizens of Raleigh as a member of the Planning Commission. It is one of the highlights of my career and my 25+ years as a resident of the Raleigh community. I write to you today, not as a Planning Commissioner, but as a Raleigh resident. Yesterday (June 8th) at your Council work session, there was a discussion about mixed income housing. Councilmember Buffkin made comments about the need to mix income to cover operating costs of housing and in that same statement, he said “another benefit of having mixed incomes….is you build a more healthy community….Don’t build projects that house only poor people. These are places that are devoid of hope. There are very few role models for the children….”
These statements are not only offensive and hurtful, they perpetuate the narrative that poor people lack morals and values. That is simply not true. Poor people lack financial resources. Period. As an urban planner, I am well aware of problems associated with concentrating low-income persons in developments, and I am well aware of issues associated with some of the old-style public housing developments (or “projects”). The problem is not the people. The problem is the environment. The problem, oftentimes, is the people who live in these communities are cast aside and forgotten about. The developments weren’t built to encourage community. They were built to cage human beings who were deemed savages and undeserving by policies designed to marginalize poor people, especially poor people of color. When people respond to the environments in which they have been thrust into, we then call them poor role models and claim we fear for our safety when they try to move themselves up and into “better” neighborhoods. These “projects” have a myriad of problems, the least of which is the people. There is poor access to transit, poor access to healthcare and other services necessary for their well-being, poor access to parks, open space and recreational activities. These areas often lack healthy food and adequate infrastructure. Schools are under-resourced. Predatory business abound. Police substations abound, again, treating the symptom and not the cause. My point is the issues are deep and complex, and, yes, sometimes there are bad people in poor neighborhoods (just as there are bad people in wealthy neighborhoods), but the environment in which they live, the layout of many of these developments, and the areas in which they are located often create unhealthy behaviors. The people didn’t create the environment by being bad role models. Racist policies like redlining and urban renewal created the environments. Policies designed to hide the poor created the environment. It is concerning and hurtful to hear a Councilor disparage hard working, poor people - many who are in the position they’re in because of a system that’s rigged against them. To imply that simply adding people with higher incomes will somehow help their moral character is offensive and reinforces many of the racist undertones upon which many of our policies, programs, and procedures are centered.
To give you a bit of my perspective….I grew up in Bertie County, North Carolina. It is one of the poorest counties in the state. It is a majority minority county and I lived in an area that, while not a dense “project”, was definitely a concentration of lower income people. People didn’t have a lot of material wealth but we had community. People worked hard and looked out for each other. Grandparents and aunties and cousins provided daycare. People bought 15-passenger vans and started their own informal vanpools as residents sought economic opportunities in neighboring counties and even Virginia. Some of the people who have had the most positive impact on my life had very little money in the bank. Many lived in substandard housing with no luxuries like central air and heat or even indoor plumbing. But you know what those people taught me? The value of hard work. The necessity of faith. The beauty of community. The steadfastness of resiliency. These “poor people” weren’t poor at all. They lacked financial resources but they were some of the richest people I’ve ever known. They walked with their heads held high. They refused to let a system who told them they were nobody take away their dignity. They pushed me. They sacrificed for me. They encouraged me to fight for people like them.
So I speak for them today, whether as a Planning Commissioner or a citizen of this great city. I carry them with me and I say ALL people have dignity regardless of their balance sheet. ALL people have dignity regardless of their zip code or census tract demographics. All people have dignity whether they live in a subdivision or a “project”. People are certainly accountable for their actions but stereotypes hurt and don’t offer constructive solutions to very real problems. Stereotypes can get down on the inside of young people and influence what they tell themselves. We can build people up or we can tear them down. I appreciate the desire to improve the lives of low-income people but we won’t do it by ostracizing, stigmatizing, and dehumanizing them. I would encourage you to ENGAGE them, get to know them, review your zoning policies, comprehensive plans and development ordinances and look for ways to spread the wealth among ALL of Raleigh’s citizens. Incentivize developers to build truly affordable housing. Help build ladders of economic opportunity for low-income persons. There are a lot of wonderful role models with limited incomes and there are some pretty terrible ones with millions. Let’s attack the policies and not the people.
Thank you for your service to the citizens of Raleigh.
Respectfully submitted,
Nicole H. Bennett"

The word "healthy" and its discussion in Wake County politics is not new. In fact the progressive/caring about poor black people/groups have used it exhaustively. They've used it the same way Councillor Buffkin has, but for another topic - Wake County's public schools.

We could post these endlessly as the left has spent seven figure levels on this issue in Wake County. The left has pushed segregated magnet schools to keep downtown Raleigh communities more amenable to gentrification. They've made the  argument, using segregation as a ruse, that schools must have a proper mix of rich and poor - otherwise these schools aren't "healthy."

We'll close with Nicole Bennett's statement:

"To imply that simply adding people with higher incomes will somehow help their moral character is offensive and reinforces many of the racist undertones upon which many of our policies, programs, and procedures are centered," Bennett wrote." 

The left has currently decided to attack Councillor Buffkin for saying the same thing they've said for years. 

Please make up your minds.