Monday, April 14, 2008

Postmodern "data"

In our time one wonders if straw man arguments are even possible. After all, the data sets are seldom substantial and lib logic is hard to follow.

(Come to think of it, most conservative and neo-con logic comes up lacking as well. Perhaps the real problem isn’t the logic itself, but the reporting of it in the media.)

So, when a report is talked about in the news I like to go right to the source if I can find it. That way we can drink from to spring as it gushes from the mountain in all its purity.

A case in point is the housing overcrowding study recently publicized by the local media. It was done by a group called “Latinos United” here in the Chicago area.

They start out with U S Census data to explain that overcrowding is a Latino problem. Fine, so far. But then they begin talking to mayors and focus groups. These interviews are what the report calls “semi-structured interviews with elected officials, city planners, housing experts, school officials and academic researchers…”

About a quarter of the way into the report (page 7) the group outlines its goals. The fix is in, folks. Here’s what they are out to prove:
“This report has several goals.
First, we aim to clarify misconceptions about overcrowding by drawing on available empirical research.
Second, we seek to provide new information about overcrowding. We are particularly inter­ested in the voice of the Latino residents who are most likely to experience household over­crowding.
Third, we intend for this report to underscore the need for collaboration among municipalities, local institutions, and regional bodies to incorporate Latinos into their Chi­cago suburban communities.
To this end, we provide policy and practice recommenda­tions that we hope will improve the housing conditions for all overcrowded residents.
Our data is a unique and useful starting point for deriving a new framework to understand housing overcrowding. It is also the first time that such a study has been undertaken in the Chicago region.”

Here’s the warning label you might have missed: “However, this report is exploratory and therefore limited in scope and depth.”

Now, here’s some of their valuable data:
“We determine that overcrowding cannot be solved through more aggressive code enforce­ment.”
(They didn’t say how they concluded that.)

“In fact, in our interviews, respondents often contest­ed the cultural explanation of overcrowding. One social service provider stated that there is nothing cultural about overcrowding. Of her caseload of 30 families in a Chicago sub­urb, 90 percent are Mexican and 75 percent live in overcrowded conditions. She stated that all her clients who are overcrowded have the goal of moving out of overcrowded con­ditions as soon as they can afford to do so. Being Mexican herself, she explained, ‘in our culture you want to live close to family, not on top of family.’”
(Now, that’s a factual way to look at things. The unbiased interviews of selected people of their choosing told them the way things really are.)

“Some of the immigrant respondents we interviewed said that landlords threatened to report them to immigration officials if they complained about being overcharged or subjected to substandard conditions.”

“One mayor inter­viewed for this report said overcrowding is predominantly caused by absentee landlords. He reasons that building owners who do not live in the community are interested primarily in making money. These landlords have mini­mal concern for tenant well-being and neigh­borhood quality of life.”

“Some respondents associated household overcrowding among Latino immigrants with a drain on public services. They associated household overcrowding with school over­crowding and strained resources for social services. Our interviews with social service providers and school officials contradicted this claim, however. The executive director of a large suburban-based nonprofit organiza­tion stated that housing overcrowding among Latino immigrants actually saves money that would otherwise be spent on homeless ser­vices. He explained that instead of a drain on public social service dollars, overcrowding is a protective measure that keeps immigrants from falling into the shelter system.”

“The school superintendent we interviewed stated that the number of overcrowded homes with more than the estimated number of children (about 2.5) is balanced out by the homes occupied by individuals without chil­dren. Another school official explained that school overcrowding is caused by the housing boom in the suburbs, not housing overcrowd­ing. In other words, school overcrowding is a function of the mismatch between new home construction and insufficient schools to ac­commodate the influx of children, not house­hold overcrowding among Latinos.”

“Considered from this angle, household over­crowding among Latinos in the suburbs may not be merely a question of affordable hous­ing, economic need, or cultural preference, but rather an example of how growing diver­sity in the suburbs can result in interpersonal tensions among neighbors. As such, it does not seem to be overcrowding, per se, but the symptoms of overcrowding—parking, noise disturbance, and lawn maintenance—that fuel tensions.”

Now come the recommendations, or “What can be done?” They aren’t asking for much. And I quote…
– Municipalities should address explicitly Latino housing needs in their housing action plan, especially the availability of affordable housing
– Further research is needed to develop a model occupancy ordinance and en­forcement mechanism
– Develop educational materials—in both English and Spanish—to provide basic information about housing codes
– Deconversion of multifamily historic homes back to single-family residences is not recommended if it reduces the availability of affordable housing
– Municipalities can provide neighbor dis­pute mediation services
– Municipalities should take a proactive, long-term approach to appointing La­tinos and Latino immigrants to various city boards and commissions
– Municipal leaders should increase out­reach efforts and work collaboratively with existing institutions to increase civic participation among foreign- and native-born Latinos
– More community-based organizations and ethnic associations are needed that can provide culturally relevant social services for Latinos
– Efforts should be made to increase the level of neighborhood services available to Latinos
(end of quote)

It is clear that this advocacy group and their ivory tower friends do not understand the reality of America; that it is a land of opportunity. That it came about because people did not want to live subject to the rules and regulations of an oppressive empire. That they dreamed of a government that wasn’t a provider, but rather a bare-bones institution that would stay out of their lives.

I’m trying hard not to create a straw man here. Really I am. But I just don’t get it sometimes. The worst of it is that city fathers all over are looking at this report as though it were gospel. What can we do?

No comments:

Post a Comment