Restoring Confidence

Posted by MJ

Here is a two-piece article (1-2) on the gradual loss of confidence in a neighborhood, it's effects and the things that point to pre-existing capitol, that while ignored or missed, can lead to a turnaround.

 They are a slower read but I found them to be interesting and possibly quite relevant. They break down a lot of what we see and experience and put it into words. For those truly interested in a turnaround here, it makes some nice points to contemplate, especially for the one-thing-fixes-all crowd.

Some highlights:

...Lacking confidence that the market is getting better, or at least stable, owners conclude any subsequent investment may be an over-investment. The result: a pullback and the denial of investments both essential and, paradoxically, affordable. The irony is that in weak markets these behaviors make property owners their own worst enemies...
...Even much smaller amounts add up to real money. A very down-on-its-luck Michigan town of just 20,000, with 7,000 households averaging an extra $42 a month not going for housing contains $3.3M a year in "withheld confidence in itself". A weak but still stronger western New York market of 30,000, averaging an extra $75 a month per household contains $9M a year in such withheld confidence...
...Our most cost-effective work as community developers is thus to mobilize communities to see the upside of investing in themselves. We do not have to ask for much. Small amounts of withheld resources - just $40 a month - can have a lasting impact on the condition of a home. A new mailbox, porch light, and screen door make all the difference. They show that someone is home, and possibly that the light is on. Of course, very few homeowners look at this cash as "extra." The money is spent, frittered away in third car payments, trips to Atlantic City or the Sandusky Ferris Wheel or Wegman's sushi bar.

What can local governments, community developers and foundations do to shake loose some of this spare change, and, even more importantly, the family's social capital on their block and in their community?...


Karen said...

I think it makes sense to try to change the way that people with expendable income spend their money in Lockport. If they would reinvest in Lockport (either through their homes or businesses here) instead of taking their money to Erie County it would only help improve the area. I remember being in the Lockport Mall with people saying that we should bring in some more clothing stores and the mall management saying that those stores have no interest in Lockport because they would say it can't support them. There are lots of people in Lockport that buy clothes, they just leave the area to buy them (to have more selection, name brands, etc). Unfortunately, because people were leaving to buy clothes, they would start buying everything else while they were away and the Lockport Mall died. I think what to do would have to be put right in front of everyone's faces in order to understand, which is the difficult part. So often, you're so used to seeing things the way they always are (or doing things the way you always have), you can't see the possibilities.

John Adams said...

The hard part is turning the trend once it starts. If people leave an area because it has too much crime or too little "appeal" it's very hard to reverse the dominant social action that takes it's place; be it lower income housing, neglected or blighted housing, or vacant and abandon housing.

It really takes courage and vision to "dare" a community to accept initiatives that will start the reversal process. For as long as I've lived here, I haven't seen very many people demonstrate that type of courage. It's easier to move away.

It's also easier to depend on the "Other person" to do the heavy lifting while some sit back and hope things change back to the way they use to be while complaining about the way things are.

I'm sorry to say that Target, Wegmans and others don't see the demographic present in Lockport to invest in a community that can't support them.

MJ said...

It is very difficult to turn around as every area in the country shows. Especially if an area has nothing unique to offer. Our mobility as a nation makes it too easy to leave messes behind. It is the reason though that I always nag(?)on building on the density Lockport once had and that which it still does. The first step is making sure new developments help us stand apart and offer unique characteristics.

The city needs to stop penalizing investment. I people are willing to risk there investments at least extend a friendly hand. Do I have the solution how? No. Though there have to be good models out there somewhere.

Also, it is on each of us to make continue to make even small investments into our property. I love seeing building permits in windows, new windows/doors or even a freshly painted porch. My rule is leave the structure better than you found it. We control more of our density than we are willing to accept the responsibility for.

These are the types of forward thinking plans I'd love to see out of those running for government. I could care less about something small like the variety of tote choices. That should be something any group of adults on the council can refine over the next year or two.

Instead of constantly chipping away at services, distracting us with petty character attacks etc, start laying the tough path of increasing our tax base and not reacting to its shrinkage. A cut throat budget is not the answer. It may steady the ship for a bit but will not stop it form sinking long term.

John Adams said...

there are ways to solve the housing problems but you have to be creative, and you can't be afraid to apply the laws on the books. The current group is either incapable or uninterested. If I were Mayor, it would be my top priority.

I'll have to settle with having been the 2nd. President of the United States.

MJ said...

I agree with you. And in the past several years there have been blitzes on several streets. One always come into the problems of # of inspectors, court time and costs. While this should be kept up on for problem properties it should not be the main route long term.

There needs to be a proactive way where the owner has confidence in investing and happily does it to begin with. It avoids the property ever reaching code violations and the "punished by the city" feeling that comes with it. The city is also worth a lot more than with just residences with "basic code maintenance".

Anonymous said...

I would love to see the statistics, but I will bet that the majority of our problem houses have at least three apartments in them. I think the key is to offer financial incentives to convert houses back to ne or at least two family homes.

John Adams said...

and I agree with you. But now you're getting into "pride" and those types of attributes and intangibles that are usually taught by example and seldom learned. You can't legislate "consideration" for others. If my neighbor doesn't care whether his grass is a foot high, or his trash is all over the place, there is no other alternative than to rely on the law to keep him in line.

Then we start to get into the area of "Old School" Social Engineering. How can we manipulate our neighbors to comply? It's usually accomplished through a reward process the old carrot and the stick.

So when you discover what the "carrot is" I'll help you hold the stick.

John Adams said...

Anon..I use to think that multi-family was the big contributing problem, and you may very well be correct, but I see a lot of single family homes that are being neglected due to old age, sickness, financial problems, or just everyday laziness, neglect and inconsideration for your neighbor and your City. I'll try again to leave politics out of this but our strategy has been to harvest the "low hanging fruit". We won't chase the bank, or the out of area Landlord.

That's why it looks like we're making very little progress.

Karen said...

I wonder if there is a way/program that the city, as part of a "reinvestment to the city", could become a buying group to be able to offer interested home-owners a discount on something that will improve their home. Simple example, the city negotiates with company A (preferably a local business) for ordering let's say mailboxes. If they get enough homeowners interested in ordering these mailboxes at a cheaper than retail price, they do it as a buying group (and company A is willing to do it because they will be getting a large sale from it). It would cost the city nothing, help a local business, and make some homes look better. Of course, the problem with that will be that everyone will not want the same mailbox or whatever people will come up with to complain about. But, maybe you will get enough people to update their home (because they are getting a deal).

GI Joe said...

actually the solution to the problem is apply the laws we have, apply them fairly and without prejudiced, be consistent with the consequences, ignore the "special interests", demand full discloser by all city employees.


1. On January 1st. of each year take one to five homes that have been seized by the City for tax delinquency etc. etc. etc. and have a "Home Owner Lottery".
2. Each ticket would cost $50.00. Each ticket holder would get the chance to own one of the homes if they win the Lottery.
3. Rules of conduct and maintenance would apply.

City gets some money, winner gets a House for $50.

Patti said...

I (GASP!) agree with GIJoe! I'm not sure if the City could actually do the lottery thing - but I do agree that there should be an avenue whereby a good "risk," (can't count a Bankruptcy 10 years ago if the guy is now earning a decent buck and is willing to work), make the "buyer" sign a contract to completely renovate the property within a fixed period of time, if he doesn't we get it back. VERY tough watch by Bldg. Insp. Dept. on this.
No city should own private property. No city WANTS to.
We MUST apply the laws already on the books - to everyone! (Want to hear me b*t@h about the f'n church again?) which include the noise ordinance - and get that Building Inspector's Office to do their job properly. If they do, it will require (probably) at least one more Judge, City Prosecutor and Code Inspector which we would be well served to spend the money to get - as long as they REALLY do their jobs properly and aren't somebody's son-in-law (I am not referring to any specific person.)

There already IS a program in place to help people (financially) if they fall into the areas of the city that are already on the National Register (you'd be surprised if you knew how much of the city is designated as such) and the first section of the Historic Preservation Commission's work is complete. Hopefully those who live in the National Register homes have already received their letters and I'm sure the next step will come soon.

GI Joe said...

Shocking..there is also an excellent program in Detroit where returning members of the Armed Forces are given homes from the tax default listing to renovate. Like for free!

See...lots of good ideas floating around, Now we need someone to listen.

Patti said...

I like the Vets program. They should be the first to be considered for a "free" house. We have many service members in Lockport - most of whom serve at the Niagara Falls Air Base.

GI Joe said...

It would be a great thing to do for a great group of people, and great publicity for Lockport.

Patti said...

You're correct.
I like the publicity angle - you can never get enough of that.

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