Killjoys versus GilJoy: Grievance Versus Opportunity

Gilbert Bland, CEO of the GilJoy Group and the Urban League of Hampton Roads, sees opportunities everywhere.

Northern Virginia progressives opposed to subsidies for Amazon are grievance-mongering nihilists who have nothing to offer but spittle and bile. Far from helping the people they purport to speak for, if they were successful in scuttling the Amazon deal — the Arlington County Board still must vote on county subsidies — they would cause only harm.

Instead of trying to kill the deal, progressive whiners and complainers could be working to capture a share of the  influx of public and private monies for the benefit of Arlington’s poor. An example they could emulate, but never will, is Gilbert T. Bland, chairman of the GilJoy Group and CEO of the Urban League of Hampton Roads, who, according to Virginia Business magazine, is leading initiatives to improve housing, education, health and workforce development for the region’s African-Americans.

But working within the establishment is not how progressives roll. Listen to Roshan Abraham with Our Revolution Arlington, as quoted by NBC News:

“There has been no outreach to the low-income, working class, and black and brown communities of Arlington who will be most negatively impacted by Amazon’s arrival. A lot of people are really concerned about rising housing costs, Amazon’s anti-union stance and workplace practices.”

“People say a rising tide raises all ships. That only happens if you are above water. For a lot of people already drowning or under water, that rising tide only makes their life much worse,” he said, noting that the influx of high-earning tech workers will likely displace poorer communities of color by pricing them out of the housing market.”

Amazon foes do raise some legitimate issues. There is an endemic problem in the U.S. when hugely wealthy companies like Amazon can pit states and metros against one another to win hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks not available to other taxpayers. That practice has to stop, although I have yet to hear any good ideas on how to end it. Further, the influx of 25,000 Amazon employees earning an average of $150,000 a year likely will make the issue of housing affordability even more acute in Northern Virginia.

However, Amazon’s nihilist foes think only to fight the kill the project. Instead of seeing Amazon as a once-in-a-generation wealth-creating opportunity that can benefit everyone, they lapse into the rhetoric of grievance and outrage. They, like their peers in New York who spiked a similar Amazon project, illustrate what is so corrosively destructive about the progressive movement today.

The fact is, even with subsidies, Amazon will generate billions of dollars in additional state and local tax revenue. Further, as part of the deal, the state has committed to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on higher education and infrastructure, while Arlington and Alexandria are dedicating $150 million to affordable housing initiatives. Amazon will unleash consumer spending power that will create job opportunities for lower-income Northern Virginians in the service, retail, and construction sectors, pushing wages higher. As an important bonus, Amazon will diversify Northern Virginia’s economy, insulating the region from downturns in federal spending. If the nihilists don’t like prosperity, I can guarantee they’ll like economic decline even less.

By contrast, Gilbert Bland grew up in the Dahlgren area of King George County. His father attended school only through the 7th grade, and his mother, though a high school valedictorian, wound up in Jim Crow-era Virginia working as a maid all her life. But his parents taught him a can-do ethic. He played on a state champion high school basketball team. Then he worked his way through college, earning a B.A. degree in accounting and economics at James Madison University and an MBA from Atlanta University. He started his career as a commercial lending officer for a bank, and then went on to own and operate more than 70 Burger King and Pizza Hut restaurants. He has sold most of those restaurants, but still owns sites in Hampton Roads and supports a payroll of 60 employees.

Bland is well aware of Virginia’s racist past, but he does not dwell on historical grievances.  To the contrary. As Virginia Business describes:

Every morning Gilbert Bland’s teenage sons see a sign on the wall over their beds proclaiming, “It’s opportunity time.”

The sign was inspired by the memoir of former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton who greeted his children with that message every day.

“We put that up in the boys’ room,” Bland says. “When they wake up every morning, they see that ‘It’s opportunity time.’ What better way to approach life?”

Bland carries that philosophy to the Urban League, which works to empower the minority citizens of Hampton Roads, which has the 13th largest African-American population in America. Bland says he seeks “to empower through investment, through programs, through partnerships to ensure that these citizens, from pre-K to the elderly, have an opportunity to engage.”

One such partnership is with LISC (the Local Initiatives Support Corp.), headed by Maurice Jones, former Secretary of Commerce under Governor Terry McAuliffe, which provides financial counseling and coaching. As a member of the Sentara Healthcare board, Bland also wants to improve African-Americans’ health. “We believe that only 10 to 15 percent of the quality of life and lifespan is [affected by] medical intervention. The rest is lifestyle choices.” He also is working with the Hunton YMCA in Norfolk, which serves an African-American population. He aims to rebuild the Y’s finances and organizational structure, creating a home for more Urban League programs.

Just imagine what opportunities Bland would see in the Amazon deal. While Amazon foes whine about a lack of outreach to them, just imagine how Bland would initiate the outreach. Just imagine the partnerships he would forge and the good he would accomplish.

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27 responses to “Killjoys versus GilJoy: Grievance Versus Opportunity”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Getting to know Bland was truly one of the best things about my four years on the State Council for Higher Education (SCHEV). He was among those fretting as the prices continue to explode.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      I met Linwood Holton regularly during mid to late 1970s after his Governorship. Why? His gym locker was next to mine, and we had the same schedule. To be in his presence regularly was to be changed by him. What a privilege for me.

      Arlington County needs men like Gilbert Bland. With men like him, Arlington county working with Amazon and its ilk should soar. Unlike Larry, I have seen that happen, and been involved. Like everything else, the non-profit world, and those in it, is all about leadership, who’s got it, and who don’t. The group I helped out around late 1990s, it is now worldwide, was founded by a doctor, working in his spare time in the late 1980s. By the late 1990s, his sponsor’s included four of the largest corporations in the world. That is when Marty took his non- profit world wide, and changed the world after changing America, and did it all working in his spare time, while having one of the most demanding medical practices in the country. Surely Arlington County can do the same.

      But, like everything else in life, it takes no accuse leaders. Marty learned that in the US Military, like Earnest King did, working always for real results every day with real people on real problems. Every day after work at the hospital Marty said it’s “It’s opportunity time.” He start ringing me up around 8 pm

      I’ve also in the past worked with three other non-profits, one in Arlington. Highly competent they did good work, problem was the county resented it, and never failed to put obstacles in their way. Another very large organization founded by a US president struggled, all paperwork no action. Why? No confident leader. Another small organization succeeded on the will and determination of one very determined woman who never quit. Save she saved kids in DC by the hundreds now, helped by her alumni who keep coming back to help. Arlington folks sounds like they need to drop the grievance, the identity politics and grow up. No excuses. They like in the most blessed place on the planet. Stop complaining. Do real work.

  2. Jim Loving Avatar

    You gotta love the shade thrown at “progressives” then the bait and switch – clearly this admirable man Bland is no progressive. However, he is focused on his local community, working with local institutions and building capacity in his area. That is a key principle in Community Wealth Building, and approach started by “progressives” in Cleveland and now being implemented around the world including in Northern Virginia.

    There are dozens of reasons to be concerned about Amazon, and the Institute for Local Self Reliance has documented them. Take a look.

    1. Too bad Arlington progressives aren’t using the Amazon project to engage in community wealth building. They have a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and they’re trying to kill it.

    2. djrippert Avatar

      Mr. Loving, welcome to the Rebellion. Your first link follows along the lines of “Amazon is a bad company” logic. There is some truth to the fact that Amazon is extremely aggressive and too often uses questionable business practices. Yet I have heard no serious commentary claiming that Amazon’s practices break the law in any systematic manner. If stronger regulation is needed then I wonder why the Institute for Self-Reliance isn’t voicing their concerns toward our lawmakers instead of toward a single company operating within existing law.

      Your second link has some real merit. However, in practical terms, the idea behind community wealth building would best be understood in terms of an ecosystem of companies. The idea that Amazon will inhibit community wealth building in Arlington / Alexandria is no more accurate than saying that General Motors (in its heyday) inhibited community wealth building in Detroit. Just the opposite was true. The growth of the automotive industry in Detroit certainly involved increasing employment at a small number of large car makers. However, it also increased employment at a lot of small, entrepreneurial locally owned businesses. Everything from restaurants to feed the growing population of Detroit to construction companies to build homes to specialty engineering companies making parts on an emergency basis to advertising concerns popped up.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’m a little amused. As far as I can tell.. there are no “successful” models to do what Bacon is claiming that people should work to achieve.

    So those dratted “liberals” have essentially recognized that reality and have come out against what they see as inevitable/historical harm to low income – that has pretty much always happened when high paying companies move into an area and gentrify it. Even happened in Seattle and cause that govt to take action – that Jim B also has condemned as “leftist extremism” !!!

    If there was a successful model for doing this – the “nihlist” label might be legitimate so Jim B is condemning them for …. not “trying”.. to do something that has not been done before?


    I’m in favor of Amazon by the way but I do see the problem and I don’t see any “plan” to deal with it other than the usual pablum about lifting all boats and other mindless blather…

    Show us a place that has successfully dealt with this problem – THEN we can condemn the folks who are opposed…

    1. “Show us a place that has successfully dealt with this problem.” Depends on how you define success. “Gentrified”? Check. Better schools? Check. Larger tax base? Check. Employment opportunities for less skilled workers? Probably but where will they live? Public transportation? Yes but serving whom? Low income housing? TBD. Cultural and income diversity? Depends on the housing and the transportation. Etc. . . .

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Probably but where will they live? Public transportation? Yes but serving whom? Low income housing? TBD. Cultural and income diversity? Depends on the housing and the transportation. Etc. . . .”

    yep. Primarily affordable housing for low income service workers.

    I look around at most if not all major cities and this is a problem and I’m not seeing it “solved” by the government nor the “market”.

    so when those pesky “progressives” cite their opposition – they get dinged for what ? not “trying” to find answers?

    geeze….. here the government and the “market” get off and not held accountable – and we blame the folks who oppose Amazon because affordable housing will be a problem and govt/market are totally absolved of any responsibility?

    something is wrong with that picture.

    apparently Jim B wants them to not oppose it and give it the old College try even if they fail…. it’s their fault for opposing what govt and the “market” can’t or won’t Fix????

    sometimes it’s hard to “follow” the logic here!!!

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Forget logic, Larry. Work hard then easy on revelation!

  5. djrippert Avatar

    There are multiple challenges.

    1. Amazon is a bad company that is anti-union, etc.
    2. Subsidies for on of the most valuable companies on the planet run and significantly owned by the richest man in the world are wrong.
    3. Localities should have economies based on locally owned businesses.
    4. Transportation systems will be overwhelmed.
    5. An influx of well paid employees will raise housing prices and create an affordable housing crisis.

    Redmond, Seattle, Silicon Valley, Austin, Silicon Alley, the Rt 128 Corridor … this has happened before.

    Numbers 1 – 4 have been solved in various ways. No place has solved #5.

    1. Is another name for number 5 “gentrification”?

      1. djrippert Avatar

        Gentrification on steroids. If the population of a relatively small area is growing at less than 1% annually and half of that growth is people in the upper 20% of the area’s median income then there is some hope of balance. While it still would be gentrification it might be manageable gentrification. Arlington, from 2010 – 2017 has grown about 2% per year (without Amazon). Alexandria has grown a bit faster over that same period. Now add Amazon’s additional growth and you have a real problem.

    2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      I agree but there is always a way, if you think creatively under pressure. Maybe more fully appreciate how many different ways your community is making money, or can make money off wealth of all kinds and sorts, found or forgotten, or locked up and under appreciated, including human capital. I believe we are only beginning to understand, or have forgotten, all the differ ways a community can built itself up and unlock its hidden opportunities. We got the most creative minds on the planet working high tech. Let’s turn those same minds loose on re-imagining or rethinking how real estate, its spaces and places and arrangements work to create wealth, and how humans can work better within them to do the same, and how laws can be changed to facilitate all of that better working together (as Abar suggests above). Like re-imaging density and air rights creations and transfers in all its iterations, given once in a lifetime opportunity opening before us in N. VA.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        There might be a way but even ultra liberal New York City under a near Communist mayor is struggling terribly with affordable housing. They have rent control, rent subsidization, government owned subsidized housing and the city is still in a perpetual “affordable housing crisis”.

  6. NYC has another huge asset: existing subway lines through areas where housing is still relatively affordable. (Emphasis on relatively.) Arlington can’t find the will to fund a streetcar line.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    Apparently, there is no existing way to assure affordable housing or else it would have put made part of the requirements that had to be met, eh?

    So what would have happened if Arlington had put a clause in – a performance clause on affordable housing as a condition of approval?

    So … no one on the govt side put such a condition clause in on the front end of the process?

    What does that mean?

  8. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    “So what would have happened if Arlington had put a clause in – a performance clause on affordable housing as a condition of approval?”

    If I were Amazon, I would have gone elsewhere. Fulfilling that contractual clause is beyond Amazon’s power and charter due their stockholders, so far too risky too. I think, however, that one key to success here is Amazon’s engine that can create and spin off the means of building a place the builds a community of people who can afford, maintain, and thrive within affordable housing while at the same time working productively within the community. The educational component of the deal is also such a proviso, a very welcome surprise. And Amazon’s philosophy of inhabiting its home fully by integrating into the community is also another very promising sign. It shows that likely Amazon will work in good faith toward making the affordable housing component happen and succeed if the public authorities do their part, which is my far greater concern, given today’s corrupt public culture, which Amazon thankfully does not share, despite the incentive argument. That is my view anyway.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think by most measures the Amazon deal is “good” but at the same time the concerns about gentrification and affordable housing are an undeniable impact – of which – in truth – not one thing was done about it – unlike, for instance, the education component.

    How do we develop a proposal that DOES INCLUDE all manner of incentives including education and totally leave out anything at all about affordable housing when we KNOW it’s a problem and will have to be addressed?

    I think that is what is driving the opponents. They KNOW it will be a problem and neither the govt nor Amazon made even an attempt at mitigating it.

    Clearly the opponents have the opposite view of what good Amazon will bring…

    Again, I’m not arguing against Amazon, I like the idea but I also very much see the thing that is driving the opposition and it’s clearly a situation of promises to address after the fact rather than making it something that has to be part of the proposal – like education was.

    1. “Neither the govt nor Amazon made even an attempt at mitigating it….

      You’re right. Other than the $150 million commitment from Arlington and Alexandria to provide affordable housing, yeah, you’re right.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        That number needs another zero. Let’s say Arlington / Alexandria can build affordable housing for $200,000 per unit (seems like a very low figure). $150m builds 750 units. Meanwhile, just under 8,000 people are moving into Arlington / Alexandria every year … before Amazon.

        In the late 1960s lower Old Town Alexandria was falling apart. Nobody wanted to live there. Nobody wanted to go there. There was plenty of “affordable housing”. Then Old Town became popular, and more popular, and more popular. Today Old Town is one of the most desirable addresses in the Washington Metropolitan area, housing prices are through the roof and “affordable housing” … not so much.

        I don’t see a solution that passes economic muster. Using the advanced statistical technique of SWAG (Silly Wild Assed Guessing) I’d say Arlington / Alexandria needs to build about 10,000 affordable housing units per year. At $200k per unit that’s $2b per year. Even if you assume sub-market rents could cover half that cost, it’s $1b per year … about $2,500 per person per year for every man, woman and child in Arlington / Alexandria.

        Don’t like my numbers? Use your own. No matter how you slice it, it’s a tough problem.

        However, where in the US Constitution or the Virginia Constitution is there a guarantee of being able to live wherever you want regardless of whether you can afford to live there? I’ve been all over the United States and I’ve yet to see a city that is growing fast and able to avoid pricing out lower income people.

        I’m sure Arlington and Alexandria would welcome ideas.

        1. Don, you’ve raised an interesting question: How far will $150 million go to create affordable housing in Arlington and Alexandria. If the money is used to purchase affordable dwellings outright, then you’re absolutely right, it won’t go very far.

          Surely that money can be leveraged, though. Instead of purchasing affordable housing units outright, the $150 million could be used to “buy down” the cost to a more affordable level. So, you might be able to leverage the funds, say, five to one.

          Following your reasoning, the number of needed affordable units would still fall short of new demand created by Amazon. But it would be a good start.

          Other partial remedies could include loosening up restrictions on renting out basement apartments, granny flats and even single rooms. I recall that Arlington addressed the granny-flat issue a couple of years ago. I’m not sure how the issue was finally resolved.

          Another partial remedy could be to make it easier for developers to re-develop aging commercial and industrial properties as mixed-use districts at higher densities. That’s an abstract notion, I admit. I have not examined the Arlington and Alexandria comprehensive plans to see how much land might be available for such redevelopment. But it’s an option that is available at least in theory.

          Yet another option could be to make it easier for developers to re-develop single-family neighborhoods. That would raise a political ruckus, for sure, because owners of SFDs would mobilize to protect the integrity of their neighborhoods. And homeowners vote, so politicians would listen. This approach would be politically contentious, for sure, but let’s not pretend that the option does not exist. Arlington has to be willing to let the urban form evolve to greater density as property values increase.

          Finally, there needs to be a recognition that Arlington and Alexandria alone cannot solve a regional housing shortage, and it is unreasonable to expect them to. Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and other localities will have to be part of the solution.

          1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            Great comment, Jim. It’s all very true. And it only scratches the surface of opportunities and challenges at hand in Northern Virginia. I would add that:

            We need to rethink what we mean by the problem of “affordable housing.” I would define it, in substantial part, to mean that anyone or family who works for a living should be given the best opportunity possible to live reasonably close to where they work. Today we would be surprised at how often this simple rule was the case in fact as late as 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. My wife and I brought our first house in 1971 within 18 months of getting our first jobs, a house on Spring Street in Chevy Chase (Martin’s edition) financed with a mortgage based only on our meager salaries ($16,000 total), plus down payment borrowed on our credit cards. One of the richest men in DC, Frank Saul, lived 2.5 blocks away. My law firm’s senior partner, its founder, a very successful man financially my father’s age also lived 2 blocks away in different direction. Yet on Spring Street we were also surrounded by young couples starting our just like us, and nobody special. Look at it on a map, Spring Street. What has happened since then to create this monster affordability problem in so many of our thriving cities?

            Many things.

            For one, our society is fabulously rich, far far more so than in 1971. That is a cause and a solution. But remember too that in the mid 1950s the Italians in Naples, Italy, though America’s streets were paved with gold. A big American car, say a Continental, would be mobbed on the streets of Naples. People just wanted to touch it, and tell their friends they had touched it.

            Well, obviously, America today has far far more money than in the 1950s too. Surely we can figure this affordability problem out and fix it. And we must fix it. At its heart, much of America’s problem today is a problem of place – the spirit, attitude and culture of its places – not one of wealth, income, or employment. It plagues places all over America.

            And Northern Virginia is now the ideal perfect storm kind of place to start fixing the problem. One reason why is what one prosperous and highly insightful Arlington resident told me last week in DC.

            “You know, Reed,” he said. “Arlington has gotten very tired, and run down at the heals, lately.”

            Perfect, I thought. That precisely what happened just before Arlington’s renewal in the 1980s. It’s primed to happen again, but in cooperation with the rest of Northern Virginia this time around.

          2. djrippert Avatar

            Much though it pains me to write this … you and Ed Risse had it right all along. Establish urban boundaries and tax the bejesus out of unimproved or underutilized land in those areas. Outside of those areas tax the bejesus out of structures.

            As far as single family neighborhoods – as soon as the land gets valuable enough they owners will sell and developers will build multi-family dwellings (assuming the zoning is changed to permit this).

          3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            Some interesting ideas there. But don’t kill what works. Instead, feed into and around the success of what works, so it works better for everybody in ever more and different ways. This latter aspect of real estate development has been greatly over looked. It’s an important aspect of the holistic nature of real estate, the many different ways that real estate when done right can benefit and spread its benefits to all sorts people. And how real estate done wrong can do all kinds of harms to many other different kinds of people too, including not least those deemed primary beneficiaries. Ghettos come in all shapes and sizes. The modern elite university for example.

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” You’re right. Other than the $150 million commitment from Arlington and Alexandria to provide affordable housing, yeah, you’re right.

    you’re right – I screwed up here…. but let’s take a closer look at actually WHAT is being promised:

    “The D.C. region has already seen a housing crunch in recent years, and all manner of experts have theorized that the arrival of Amazon’s thousands of highly paid workers will only worsen the county’s challenges. Accordingly, Virginia’s offer to Amazon includes a frequent emphasis on the region’s commitment to addressing local housing woes, and it touts a $150 million investment in affordable housing by Arlington and Alexandria over the next decade. The state has also pledged massive investments in existing programs through its Virginia Housing Development Authority.”

    ………… ” That means about $7 million each year will be dedicated to housing affordability programs impacting the neighborhoods surrounding Amazon’s new headquarters. Cristol also hopes to increase that amount as new tax revenues from the company flow into county coffers, though Arlington will need a few years to truly feel those revenue impacts.”

    okay so we see some impressive-sounding numbers… true but what does it actually translate into?

    Not Much!

    Here’s the thing – The whole “evderybody and their dog commuting daily from Fredericksburg to NoVa” is about “affordable housing” if you listen to the folks who are doing the commute… phrases like “I have NO CHOICE, there is no housing in NoVa that I can afford on my salary”.

    And NoVa and it’s commuting exurbs are not unique by any stretch of the imagination for most of the US whether it’s New York, Atlanta, Houston, LA… and Amazon’s home Seattle.

    It’s the Same problem.

    Jim B continues to assert, it’s a problem caused by govt restrictions on development – i.e. that the “market” will provide affordable housing if the Govt will get out of the way.

    And what I am saying is that – we have an opportunity with Amazon to put Jim’s thesis to the test because looking at that $150 million – it’s really not what it seems – it’s hardly a drop in the bucket and without specifics – it’s more lip service than real.

    Of course – the whole conundrum is infested with ironies because Liberals think in terms of using other folks taxes to pay to provide affordable housing while Conservatives keep blathering about restrictions and market – most all urban areas in the US are run by Liberals so … yes I keep asking to see that urban area that is designed and operated according to Conservative ideas with low taxes and affordable housing for all… 😉

    Finally, DJ has made the point over and over – NoVa is not your stereotypical “dense” urban area – but rather some kind of a cross between urban and suburban – and in theory – still has opportunities for
    more “dense” to grow – to which I circle back to the $150 million and ask if that amount spread over 10 years is really much of anything at all and clearly none of what Jim B talks about in terms of easing development restrictions and incentivizing more dense development.

    I think unless something more happens that NoVa will change Amazon more than Amazon changing NoVa when it comes to affordable housing and exurban commuting to “affordable” housing.

    Nothing will change given the current approach being taken.

  11. Jim Loving Avatar

    In addition to NOVA (South Fairfax), I forgot to add that the City of Richmond has also created an Office of Community Wealth building. Each of these approaches build from the principles articulated by the Democracy Collaborative. From my perspective, it is not a case of either/or (traditional Economic Development – i.e. give aways to large multi-nationals like Amazon that can and do pick up and leave after the big tax breaks and race to the bottom between localities) but both/and. Smart communities are looking at new approaches to Economic Development.

    1. I’m not sure what form Richmond’s wealth-building program is taking, but I’ll say in the abstract that the idea of teaching people how to manage their finances, built even modest wealth, and get out of the poverty trap is a great idea. It should be an idea that progressives, liberals, libertarians and conservatives can all agree upon.

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