It Takes a lot of Nerve to Talk about the Real Causes of Blight. The News Doesn't Have It.

Hey, if you drop by here every once in a while and read this crap, then you may wonder, "What on earth is wrong with this guy?" I just want you to know, I have the same question. Today I finished reading the big editorial in our city's only daily newspaper -- all about "the high cost of blight" -- and I wondered, "What is my problem?"

I should love it. I'm a libtard. I'm against blight. I'm against everything in the world that's evil and awful down to and including Nantucket red pants. So I should love the 4-year-old editorial campaign against blight in The Dallas Morning News. But I hate it.

So what is wrong with me? What is my problem? OK, I'll tell you what my problem is. I think campaigns against blight are stupid, because they miss the whole point of everything.

The editorial in the News today is based on a report that Eric Nicholson told you about here on Unfair Park a week ago -- a new blight study at the University of North Texas. The editorial writers at the News love this study, which they call "an academically rigorous examination of blight." Totally by coincidence, the researchers at UNT who did the report love the Morning News editorial writers, whose work they call "very useful." So it's just pretty much smoochy-times all around between the blight writers at the News and the blight researchers at UNT.

See also: - A New Map of Blight in Dallas Highlights the Depth of City's North-South Divide - Southern Dallas' Uncounted Workers

The UNT report mimics the Morning News editorial page series. It catalogs instances of blight, especially in the form of neglected real estate, and then it posits a causal relationship with crime, high school drop-out rates, bad health and all that stuff.

The UNT researchers who wrote the report outdo the News in the temerity department, however, by offering a list of cures for blight at the end of their report, mainly in the form of government- and charity-supported fix-up programs. For example, they tout Community Housing Development Organizations or CHDOs, a federal arrangement by which churches and other nonprofit groups can get grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For a look at the role CHDOs have played in southern Dallas in the recent past, I suggest you revisit the federal indictment of former Dallas City Council member Don Hill, now serving a very long sentence in the Big House on multiple bribery convictions. Look especially for "CHDO A" and "CHDO B," which were channels for bribe money from a private developer who needed Hill's vote for tax-subsidized housing projects that increased racial segregation and ... oh, yes ... blight. Yeah, to the extent that more segregated subsidized housing works directly against the interests of stable single-family home ownership, we'd have to say CHDOs have been a powerful engine of blight, not to mention getting elected officials sent to the Big House.

In fact, let's go back to that segregation thing for a second. In terms of the historical process that produced it, segregation was a direct consequence and legacy of slavery. Slavery continues to haunt our moral and political culture, sometimes in very complicated ways.

Two years ago when Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price was working to sabotage the "Inland Port" warehousing and shipping development in his own part of town -- a project that offered his constituents 65,000 new jobs -- he told me that jobs have a bad name in southern Dallas because they are associated with slavery.

"During slavery, everybody had a job," he said.

In other words, screw jobs. What Price wanted instead was for a private family-owned development company to hand over partial ownership of itself to a group of "consultants" who would pay for their share by giving the company advice on how to avoid trouble with Price. He called this arrangement "equity" -- an unintentional pun.

I have written about specific census tracts in southern Dallas where more than 60 percent of residents are classified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as "not in the labor force," meaning they have no jobs, have not had jobs in the past and are not looking for jobs.

I think not ever having a job is a major cause of blight. But I'm not smart enough to know what the solution is. People who want jobs badly enough tend to get up on their own initiative, get out and move to places where they can find jobs. Offering a job on a silver platter to someone who is not really looking for a job may not offer a happy outcome to any involved party.

But if I were really going to talk about blight, that's the kind of stuff I would want to talk about. In fact, if we really give a shit about this, I don't see how we can avoid talking about the moral and cultural legacies of slavery and segregation for people at all points of the social compass. That means racism and deliberate disinvestment on the part of the white guys. But it also involves ingrained oppositional culture and an alienated withdrawal from the mainstream economy and culture on the part of the people who occupy blighted areas.

It takes two to tango.

I'm not saying you can't talk about trashy front yards and boarded-up gas stations. But I am saying you can't talk about real estate as if it were the cause of deeply personal moral and cultural issues, especially if you are not going to talk about the those issues.

Whether we are editorial writers or university researchers, dwelling on shabby real estate while not talking about real root causes just makes us seem silly. It also makes us seem chicken-shit, as if we are afraid to talk about the real causes.

But it's not them. It's me. I know it is. It's all me. I am hideous. You know what? I'm just going to go ahead, get on-line and order me some of those red pants. Might as well go all in. How do I Google it? I'll try "stupid pants."

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze