Multicultural Diversity in a Liberal NoVa Neighborhood

The Washington Post

has a fascinating story about the clash of cultures in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County. Anglo homeowners are upset by immigrants who purchase houses in their neighborhood, pack them with people, crowd the streets with parked cars, come and go at all hours of the day, play loud music and generally disrupt the peace and tranquility of suburban life.

Supervisor Penelope A. Gross, D-Mason, takes an academic, almost anthropological perspective: “It’s a different model. A transition from the nuclear Caucasian family to the ethnic extended family.” The Anglos are not quite as detached and broad minded. Chafing at the violation of county ordinances, perceiving threats to their quality of life and worrying about the impact on their property values, they warn that Gross may pay politically in the next election.

And who are these yahoos, these know-nothings, these nativist bigots who rail against the brown people from south of the border who are simply trying to make an honest living in the United States but can’t afford the sky-high real estate prices in Fairfax County without living two or three to a room, including basements and garages? Are they Bible-thumping Jerry Falwellites? Are they rednecks with gunracks in their pickup trucks? Well, not exactly.

Rick Gordon, of Falls Church, has complained to county officials and talked to the Washington Post about an illegal boarding house of between eight and 10 men in his Lakewood neighborhood for more than a year and a half. Two trucks and as many as nine cars park in front. Here’s what he told the Washington Post.

“We’re not some right-wing Nazi community,” Gordon said. “Everybody is a liberal Democrat. In my community, without a doubt, people will not vote for [Gross] unless this problem is solved soon.”

Verrry

interesting. “Everybody is a liberal Democrat.” Presumably, everyone appreciates diversity and multi-culturalism — at least in the abstract. Presumably, everyone would steadfastly deny having a racist bone in their body. And, I’d be willing to bet, a goodly number consider themselves morally superior to the bigots, klansmen and right-wing Nazis who live downstate.

There are two morals to this story. First is the inherent flaw in Fairfax County’s human settlement pattern. There is a huge demand for low-wage, unskilled/semi-skilled labor in the county. The demand for this labor is met by immigrants, mostly central American. As low-wage workers, they cannot afford to live in the one-nuclear-family-per-dwelling lifestyle that native Fairfaxians consider the norm and have ensconced in their zoning codes. Long-range commuting from downstate trailer parks is expensive, too. But living in boarding-room conditions in Fairfax is no worse — perhaps even better — than the Third World conditions they came from. Trouble is, the immigrants haven’t been acculturated yet to middle-class American norms. Bottom line: Fairfax County wants their labor but doesn’t want them.

Multi-culturalism is wonderful — as long as it’s limited to school rooms and politics.

The second moral is this: Liberals who complain about the behavior of low-wage immigrants, a good percentage of whom could be illegal, are not necessarily racially prejudiced. Liberal Anglos have as much right to their tranquil, nuclear-family suburban lifestyle as Latin immigrants have to their lifestyle of packing large extended families (with uncles, cousins, fellow villagers from the old country) into a single dwelling. Likewise, conservatives who want to uphold the rule of law — reminding people that illegal immigration is, in fact illegal — are not necessarily racially prejudiced either, as their detractors often claim.

Fairfax Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly puts the onus on the Anglos and Hispanics to work things out. “Every neighborhood has a clear balance of harmony to it, and I have some obligation to respect that harmony if I move there. But neighborhoods also have an obligation to expand that harmony to accommodate different cultures.” Hmmm. I don’t think Rick Gordon’s problem is that his neighbors are playing salsa music instead of rock and roll. His problem is that they are violating county ordinances and changing the nature of the neighborhood.

The solution, I would argue, is not asking the people to change — under different conditions, they would get along just fine. Rather, Fairfax County has an obligation to permit a wider range of human settlement patterns — more high-density neighborhoods and fewer restrictions on minimum living space — that would allow immigrants to find accommodations in settings that don’t disturb their more peace-seeking neighbors.


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24 responses to “Multicultural Diversity in a Liberal NoVa Neighborhood”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “fewer restrictions on minimum living space”

    What I picked up on from the article is that a 2500 sq ft home already allows for 8 to 12 people and up to four who are not related. On an individual home basis, that would seem to be plenty dense enough. I thought that the article was pointing out that, when people file complaints, they often do not realize how “liberal” our rules already are.

    I also disagree that this is an issue of not beang able to afford housing: the article pointed out that many of these complaints are founded against homes that are owned by the immigrants.

    In my Alexandria neighborhood I had problems similar to those described, but over time they hae been worked out, and we now have good neighbbors: Vietnamese and Salvadorean. Both of them own their homes, and both have larger families than I do.

    “There is a huge demand for low-wage, unskilled/semi-skilled labor in the county.” Fairfax county apparently has a huge demand for everything. It is up to the planners to figure out what the right balance is, right? But what planner could possibly have forseen the current conditions when those neighborhoods were planned 50 years ago?

    What, exactly, are all these low wage laborers doing in a high tech county like Fairfax? When I was working in the Pentagon thousands of them were there working to rebuild the wing damaged on 9/11.

    Well, they are attracted by all the peripheral work that spins off from the enormous job concentrations in Fairfax. Often, Anglo Fairfax “natives” have two income families, and they are working long hard hours, too. So they subcontract out what might once have been daily chores. This was an element the planners didn’t figure on.

    At one time, it was still possible to commute in from the outlying “trailer parks” and other low cost housing, but that is no longer possible. Meanwhile, existing low cost housing is being “upscaled” and often by new immigrant owners.

    I spent a week at a Carribbean Resort where the immediate surroundings were maintained to Anglo Standards, but all the work was “subcontracted out” to people who lived outside the compound under much lesser conditions. But Fairfax is so enormous that physical separation is no longer possible.

    I think it comes down the comment made when they interviewed one of the immigrants as to what the problem was: “bad neigbors”.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    So .. I’m reading this and I’m thinking.. “Is this what some folks mean when they say that people ‘have no choice’ but to commute 100 miles a day because that’s the only way they can find ‘affordable’ housing”?

    ๐Ÿ™‚

    OR .. is this REALLY about something else… that many of us wold prefer to not really know much about?

    I simply don’t buy the idea that this is about illegals or illegal or psuedo-illegal activities.

    This is about having to acknowledge that there are real, live folks who work to provide the more fortunate with services that are needed and they have to find a place to live that is affordable.

    So the next time (which won’t be more than a few days at most I suspect)… we once again get into group natter on about the need for compact develoment, new urbanism, and sustainable human settlement patterns … hopefully.. we’ll keep our group-think broad enough to encompass the real world…needs.

    And no.. this is not about Conservation tax credits, preserving scenic land … or even making more land available for development for “affordable housing” especially if “affordable” means McMansions on the “cheap” on new super highways big enough for all of the SOLO SUVs to travel at rush hour without “congestion”.

    Let’s get with it .. “creative class”. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    These homes are often owned by immigrants, however…

    they are usually bought with no-income, no-doc loans. Add to that the recent glut of interest only loans…

    and that explains why they can “afford” these houses. The payments are then made by combining the incomes of the 15 adults living in the house.

  4. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    “This is about having to acknowledge that there are real, live folks who work to provide the more fortunate with services that are needed and they have to find a place to live that is affordable.”

    And if you’ve noiced, who DON’T tend to live in the places that “the more fortunate” among us do. Kudos to you, Ray, for your post; however, try working things out when half or more of the neighborhood is high density occupation.

    People don’t buy houses the way they buy sweaters: check out the catalogue and pick size and color. You don’t just buy a house: you buy a community, a school system (especially if you have children); and you buy a way of life. You make what is probably the most expensive and important investment that you make in your life and you want to keep it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

    A few years back, a friend of mine who lived in Manassas VA noted that in his neighborhood, a house would go on sale and be bought. In a week or two, 6 cars and trucks would be parked outside – including on the front lawn – and then about a month or so later, 2 or 3 more houses in the immediate neighborhood would go on the market. Where do you think these sellers of those houses went? Around the corner where the same situation prevailed? No, farther out….

    I lived for many years in an extremely well managed apartment complex in Alexandria. Many tenants had lived there for decades. Sometime in the 1990s, we started seeing dense occupation, mainly immigrants from Ethiopia and El Salvadore, replacing relatively light occupation (one or two per apt). I strongly suspect that some apartments that were rented to three or four people unofficially held six or more. Short of staging surprise raids, it is nearly impossible for apartment managers to police this sort of infraction, no matter how careful they are.

    The quality of life began to suffer. It was harder to find nearby parking and to do your laundry. Trash cans overflowed; the parking lot contained mounds of fast-food litter. Crime appeared in our previously quiet community. A man in his late 70’s – my downstairs neighbor – was the victim of an attempted home invasion – this in a complex where I had previously not bothered to lock my door when I took out my trash.

    Needless to say, as more of the low-density occupants left, no doubt at least partly in response to these problems, more high-density occupants moved in. The result was inevitable: By the time I moved out a few years back (2002), it was hard to recognize the complex as the affordable, comfortable, safe middle-class community that it had been for more than 25 years.

    Now this was an apartment complex and I was able to leave without much loss, and I had planned to retire and move away. What if I had owned a home and had to sell it? To whom would I have sold it? It is extremely easy to make light of this issue if you aren’t the person whose community is being destroyed. This issue transcends liberal and conservative.

    One of the things that gets me going is the fact that so many of the elites, left and right, who love multiculuralism or cheap foreign labor manage to live in neighborhoods that aren’t affected by these entities. They see to that.

    I saw my home turned into a third-world slum before I left. This is sad.

    Deena Flinchum

  5. Tobias Jodter Avatar
    Tobias Jodter

    The quality of life began to suffer. It was harder to find nearby parking and to do your laundry. Trash cans overflowed; the parking lot contained mounds of fast-food litter. Crime appeared in our previously quiet community. A man in his late 70’s – my downstairs neighbor – was the victim of an attempted home invasion – this in a complex where I had previously not bothered to lock my door when I took out my trash.

    I hear and see many versions of this same story again and again here in NOVA – littering, graffiti, crime, illegal parking, school overcrowding, lack of property maintenance, epidemic of dangerous pedestrian and bicycle traffic…

    But I guess we are bad neighbors for noticing.

    Not enforcing zoning ordinances goes hand in hand with not enforcing immigration laws. This lack of enforcement by FXCO is in effect a zoning change to these neighborhoods. The homeowners should be reimbursed for any calculable reduction in property values.

  6. diet calories Avatar
    diet calories

    There are alot of fantastic knowledge where we can save up more than just one word but have varities of words of education.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I don’t think you can mandate prosperity through zoning ordinances. As I said, the ordinances apparently allow for far more residents than most anglo homes have. It isn’t clear how much of this is do to lack of enforcement and how much is due to lack of understanding what the rules really are.

    Also notice how much of the complaints have to do with vehicles. With six wage earners in a house there are likely to be six vehicles.

    I can’t say I like the changes in my neighborhood. I can’t say I haven’t considered when to sell.

    On the other hand, there used to be a decrepit house in my neighborhood. A bag lady lived thare and hoarded trash until it filled the house the yard and the junk cars in the yard. Despite repeated requests the county failed to find a way to help this poor demented soul, living an a shambles that was an obvious hazard.

    Eventually there was a fire, and the woman was finally moved. The structure was since restored and is now owned by immigrants, I believe.

    Probably Tobias is right: not enforcing the regulations we have goes hand in hand with not enforcing the immigration laws. It is easy and cheap to write a law, but enforcing it is slow and expensive.

    Also, some of these people make enough money to live better than they do, but they double and triple up in order to send money home. In that respect the conditions we endure amount to a perverse kind of foreign aid.

    Deena had problems with her neighbors before, and as I understand it, she has troubles of a different sort with her neighbors now. I guess having a better class of neighbors doesn’t necessarily mean you have better neighbors.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    It can cut both ways. I have a friend inthe Kings Park area who has mostly Korean neighbors. He is annoyed because they take such meticulous and lavish care of their gardens that they make him look bad.

  9. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    When Liberals complain about illegal aliens it isn’t racially motivated, but when Conservatives complain about illegal aliens it is?

  10. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    “Deena had problems with her neighbors before, and as I understand it, she has troubles of a different sort with her neighbors now.”

    Ray, I assume you are referring to the homeowners’association that refused to allow us to add 2 bedrooms onto our townhouse, which was their right. We remain on good terms with these neighbors. In fact we liked the neighborhood so well that we built a block away. We simply needed more room. One of the neighbors recently stopped by to get a tour of our house and the builder’s info because he liked our house and is thinking of building out in the county. I would have no problem whatsoever recommending our former development to a friend.

    This is very different from the situation I described above. Being told that you can’t build onto your house can’t compare to living over the site of an attempted home invasion, especially if you often work late and come home alone after dark.

    I think that EMR would have approved of the apartment complex as it had existed for about 25 years. It was within walking distance of most stores that you need on a routine basis and on a great public transportation route. I didn’t even own a car. It had very low turnover and was moderate in price. “Sustainability” at its best. However, it was not designed to hold the density of population that it held toward the end. I suspect that the same thing is true with a lot of single-family neighborhoods that now have a number of houses with 10 or 12 people in them.

    I say “end” because after I left a nearby neighborhood (houses going for $600 thou) raised a fuss because the tenants were parking on their streets. City Council gave them the parking restrictions they asked for. The complex owners decided to go upscale. Those moderate apartments are now renting at about 3-4 times my old rent. That is, when they can find renters.

    Most of the folks who lived there in the old days likely moved farther out, where there was less convenient public transportation but where housing was less expensive than in the inner suburbs. They no doubt are adding to the horrendous Northern Virginia traffic and pollution, not to mention sprawl and loss of open spaces.

    Meanwhile Congress and President Bush are pushing for even more immigration that will push the US from 300 million as of last year to within a shout of 500 million within 50 years.

  11. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    The anti-growth, anti-real estate
    proponents on this blog site who
    supported the recently approved
    growth management-transportation
    plan passed by the General Assembly
    and supported by Gov. Tim Kaine are
    part of our problem relative to
    these issues.

    Society needs workers at all levels
    to fill jobs that meeting our daily
    needs both in the private and the
    public sectors.

    Those workers needs a place to live
    fellows.

    The new state plan recently will drive up housing costs, force
    more people to try to live in a
    single family homes and to live 100
    miles from their jobs!!!!!

    Likewise, local growth management
    measures add to the costs of homes via proffers and have the same impact!!!!

    Those who support such laws do so on the backs of the poor and the
    less fortunate in our society who
    toil in jobs that benefit all of us.

  12. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Correction:

    The new state plan recently “approved” will drive up housing costs, force more people
    to try to live in (a) single family homes and to live 100 miles
    from their jobs!!!!

  13. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    “When Liberals complain about illegal aliens it isn’t racially motivated, but when Conservatives complain about illegal aliens it is?” JAB

    James Bowden,

    A man as smart as you must know that people who sling the words “racist” and “xenophobe” are merely trying to shut down debate. It usually means that they have no answers to the issues you’ve raised. In short, you are winning. I look upon those words the way that some wit long ago said that we should look upon the phrase SOB: The only people who should take it as an insult are those who are unsure of their mother’s virtue.

    Most of the folks who use these words in the immigration debate tend to be what I refer to as “Saints Elsewhere” (old TV show about doctors in what I vaguely remember was a mental institution). A “saint elsewhere” is a person who wants to do “good deeds” and thus appear saintly, but wants the results, often bad and very bad, of those “good deeds” to fall elsewhere, as in somebody else’s family, neighborhood, school, hospital, job, etc. Often these saints elsewhere have the money and/or connections that enable them to locate “elsewhere” well away from themselves.

    I came up with the phrase myself but it isn’t copyrighted. Feel free to use it Liberally or Conservatively.

    Deena Flinchum

  14. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    It’s always going to be the case that you have lower middle and upper income neighborhoods

    As Jim mentioned the issue now is that there is very little low income housing available for members of the service industry who work at the gas stations, resturants, and stores that are the hallmark of suburbia.

    You have a “entrepanuer” buy up a place and then rent it out to too many people.

    Thats the real issue.

    Legally like people have said in a single family house you can have 8-12 people from four families so there isn’t really that much that can be done.

    I’m lucky I live in a low-to moderate income multi-cultural condo neighborhood with high turnover but everyone is polite and respectful.

    I think it helps that we have a pretty high ownership rate compared to renters

    NMM

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “elsewhere”

    Touche!

    BUT… good deeds aside ….

    WHERE do you want the folks who provide services to you – to live?

    elsewhere?

    Is this issue about do-gooders or is it about those of us who want a good restaurant dinner for cheap and as long as the low-paid kitchen help lives “elsewhere”, we’re happy?

    don’t get me wrong here.

    I’m asking the question.

    I’m in the same boat as everyone else but I do believe in being honest with oneself… on things like this.

  16. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    “WHERE do you want the folks who provide services to you – to live?”

    Down here in SW VA, the people who provide services to ME live all around me and I like that just fine. They generally have lived around here for generations. SW VA’s economy may be depressed by NoVA’s standards, but so far the local businesses hire locally – including students and former manufacturing workers – instead of using illegal immigrants to drive down wages thus setting up conditions as I described above. And any business down here who does otherwise will quickly lose MY business.

    The 23-year-old young man who services our A/C and heating just bought a single-family house down here. The 20-somethings who built our house – all locals. The guys who do our yard work? Local SW Virginians every one and they come back year after year. Restaurants? Locals and students.

    I live in a mixed neighborhood. There are several S-F houses, some rowhouses, a few duplexs. Lot of blue-collar, some white-collar, and some – GASP! – students. The guy two doors up does yard work. We knew – and liked – the neighborhood well. That’s why we’re here. We could just as easily have moved out to the newer pricier sections. We prefer a mixed neighborhood.

    The apartment complex that I lived in Alexandria was also mixed. My 70-some-year-old neighbor was a retired maintenance man. The lady 2 doors over worked for Marriot Hotels. Most of my neighbors were low level white collar or blue collar workers- black, white, gay, straight, young, old, middle-aged, various professions and retired, some immigrants. Lots of single middle-aged women who did office work. A safe, clean, moderately priced HOME – some lived there for decades. I had a good job in IT – I could have afforded to live in a more expensive place. I CHOSE to live there.

    You mention “those of us who want a good restaurant dinner for cheap and as long as the low-paid kitchen help lives “elsewhere”, we’re happy”. I don’t want a cheap restaurant meal at the expense of the hired help and I’m sorry if you do. I want the hired help paid a decent, living wage. I’ll pay more for dinner, just as I pay more for yard work than some of my NoVA friends.

    Would you be surprised to discover that during the recent building boom, wages for construction workers went down? They did. If construction workers can’t prosper in a building boom, when can they prosper? Nevertheless housing prices soared. How can this be? US builders are using low-paid illegal workers. How many young black construction workers do you see in NoVA? Although blacks make up only about 4% of the population here, we have young black construction workers. Why do you think that is?

    In fact, Larry, there are no jobs that US citizens won’t do but they can’t live on the wages that US companies WANT to pay. US companies want to privatize the profits of cheap foreigh labor and then shove the costs onto the public. There are money costs: health care, social services, schools, law-enforcement, etc. There are also social costs: deteriorating schools (Fairfax County?), over-crowded housing, crime, what I described above, etc.

    Larry, I’m retired. I do lots of community service work but I’ll probably never work for pay again in my life. If SW VA were suddenly inundated by cheap foreign labor, much of it illegal, they wouldn’t be competing with me; and, in fact, I could probably get my yard mowed and my house cleaned for a fraction of what I pay now. I don’t want that. I don’t want to exploit people. I prefer that US workers be treated and paid fairly.

    I have several friends who live in the neighborhood that got the parking restrictions because the tenants from my complex were parking in their neighborhood. Some of these same friends were horrified that the people in Herndon objected to placing a day labor site in their neighborhood. How dare they object to those poor people who were just trying to work, blah, blah, blah? A day laborer site – used largely by illegal workers – is far more of a drain on a community than simple parking, just as over-crowded housing is. The difference was, of course, that the parking was in their neighborhood; the day laborer site was “elsewhere”. Didn’t cost a thing to defend those “poor people”.

    You say “I do believe in being honest with oneself… on things like this.” Me too. I also believe in paying a fair price for labor and not importing a new slave-class.

    Deena Flinchum

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Deena – we’re on the same side.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

    I too am retired and I too live in
    an area where my neighbors are the same folks who fix my furnance when it breaks and provide dozens of other services that I need.

    The guy down the street is putting replacement windows in.. next week.

    And I also believe in paying a fair price for services. I WANT them to charge enough for them to be able to make a living….even if modest by some standards.

    But every community – whether it be rural, suburban or urban – (it’s citizens and leaders) must see that it has a collective responsibility to ensure that a variety of housing is available for ALL of it’s workers….(also citizens AND taxpayers) that IS affordable .. or else we will see the more and more of AD-Hoc ..de-facto “rooming” housing.

    We also need to recognize that a lack of “Affordable Housing” in NoVa and other urban areas is often perceived as the reason why folks who make 80-100K a year must commute 50 miles to find a home … whereas the folks who make 30K a year providing services … ALSO need a place to live …and
    … should not be thought of as needing to live “elsewhere”.

    As you pointed out – rural Virginia has no problem with this concept… but you have to admit… that when a whole bunch of folks move into a 3 bedroom home or even an apartment that something is going on … with respect to people needing a place to live.

    I guess I’m having a hard time understanding that the need for service workers and the consequential need for housing that is affordable to service workers …. is connected at the hip with immigration issues.

    I guess I feel that the need to have affordable workforce housing… applies regardless of ethinicity or national origin..

    If we shipped every single “illegal” out of the country tommorrow afternoon – we’d still have a problem… with folks of modest means “renting rooms” in NoVa and other urban locales.. would we not?

  18. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Deena: I may have mispoken. I was thinking of someone who said they had a problem with large barns being built next door.

    ——————————-

    “You have a “entrepanuer” buy up a place and then rent it out to too many people.”

    Yes, that happens, but not so often as people think. For one thing property is so expensive that you can’t afford to take the chance of ruffians ruining it. You want nice quiet family types, preferably with a rent / option to buy. Problem is, the property is so expensive it is hard to imagine how you can rent your way into it. It’s hard to get tenants that can hope to buy the place someday.

    For another thing, it is a lot easier to enforce against a landlord than it is resident owners.
    ————————-

    “the issue now is that there is very little low income housing available for members of the service industry who work at the gas stations, resturants, and stores that are the hallmark of suburbia.”

    Why are they the hallmark of suburbia? Is it because the same people in the city are simply unemployed? Or is it because service people in the city are more invisible?

    I agree there is far too little affordable housing. From personal experience I put the blame squarely on those that claim (falsely, in my opinion) that residential housing doesn’t “pay”.

    Like the other anonymous said:

    “Those who support such laws do so on the backs of the poor and the
    less fortunate in our society who
    toil in jobs that benefit all of us.”

    So how is it that they benefit all of us, yet the houses they live in don’t pay?

    ————————-

    “I also believe in paying a fair price for labor and not importing a new slave-class.”

    How do you know what a fair price is, if it is supported by import controls?

    So here is a guy who walked threee days across the Sonoran desert, and spent three more days on a bus, just to get to work. He thinks he IS getting a fair price.

    Those people who drive 50 miles to work are driven by the exact same impetus. Suppose we set import controls at the county level, instead of the federal level: you work in Fairfax, you must live in Fairfax.

    What would be the result? My guess is that the result would be the same: wages would go up because they were being artificialy supported. They would also go up because some people would refuse to live in Fairfax, cereating an (artifical) shortage of workers. Rents would soon follow the higher incomes.

    Meanwhile back in Rappahannock (read Guanajuato) wages would fall do to too few jobs and too many workers. Pretty soon, Rappahannock workers would be tripling up in bogus Fairfax apartments so they could have a “legal” address. We would probably invent a new ethnic slur against Rapahonkyans.

    —————————–

    “when a whole bunch of folks move into a 3 bedroom home or even an apartment that something is going on … with respect to people needing a place to live.”

    Right. You wouldn’t beleive the living situations I saw (and endured) on summer time Martha’s Vineyard. It simply got to the point that if you wanted workers, you had to provide them a place to live.

    I suppose that explains why I think that we should look a lot harder at the employers for ways to solve our problems. It’s hard to look at what we think is a gift horse in the mouth, until we find they are taking more than giving.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The next time you take a trip to a vacation lodge in a National Park or the Poconos, etc… note that the “wait” and housekeeping staffs are often … white skinned with non-American accents – European – eastern, etc.

    We were curious – and so we asked.

    It turns out that more than a few of these young Europeans are “imported” “just” for the summer to staff many of these lodges and they are also provided a place to live.. as part of the deal – some are single rooms and some are even pseudo bunk rooms with a common kitchen and bathrooms, etc.

    The point I am making is that these lodges must provide housing for their service folks if they are going to remain competitive – stay in business.

    Yes – they could hire local folks for more money but then they’d have to charge more than their compeititors who would find and use cheaper labor.

    So for these lodges that import labor and provide “accommodations” for them – are basically employing a more proactive approach as opposed to hiring these folks and telling them they are “on their own” – at which point – you might find them all renting available places with one bedroom per … or some such – or more likely – they would not come over here to work for the summer in the first place.

    My point is that this is not that much different to what happens to service workers in our urban areas such as NoVa – except – it’s not for the summer… it’s much longer term.

    Some might say the solution to the problem of too many people living in one house is to figure out a way to get rid of “Those kind of people” but methinks a more fruitful approach might be to figure out what laws and regs prevent the marketplace from providing other – more competitive options for those needing that level of affordable housing.

    I do find irony in the discussion of the whole idea of “more efficient” settlement patterns – compact development, new urbanism, balanced communities, etc, et al – and “affordable” housing – in the context of housing for those who don’t earn median or better salaries.

    And if folks haven’t figured it out yet… I tend to have more sympathy for the service worker types than the 100K a year folks McMansion wannabes….

    This is what I meant about being “honest” about the problem.

    I don’t think, we’re going to outlaw people nor people who perform service work nor people who will perform service work at very low wages – at least anytime soon and I don’t see many of us hiring service workers to .. say landscape their yard at $50-$100 an hour… or actually insist on paying them such wages – just so those folks will have enough money to live in a more “affordable” home.

    So .. what is worse – folks taking the bull by the horns.. and finding a way to work – and live on their own … or for others to pay taxes – for “subsidized” housing for the “working poor”?

  20. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Funny about the barns, Ray! My street dead-ends a few blocks down with a farm (cows) and, I’d guess, a barn on one side of the road and the municipal golf course on the other with an incredible view just beyond that. Somewhere near all this, I’m told, is the eastern continental divide. I told you it was a mixed use neighborhood.

    Also you are right about employers needing to be part of the solution: One of my big complaints is that employers privatize profits from cheap foreign labor but pass costs onto the public at large.

    As for who decides a fair price for labor in the US, it certainly shouldn’t be third-world workers so desperate that they walk across deserts and consider sharing a bedroom with 4 other people a step up because the apartment at least has indoor plumbing IF we want to remain a largely middle-class society. And while we’re at it, let’s inform the man about to embark across the desert from Mexico that there are around 6.5 billion people in the world and well over half live in countries with lower per cap income than Mexico and with people quite possibly much more desperate than he is. There was an article in 2005 about farmers in WA state preferring Thai workers over Latinos. Not only were they “more productive” but they also had a “lower runaway rate”, meaning that they didn’t leave ag-work for construction, largely I suspect due to their language problem. The race to the bottom in wages can be ugly. And, yes, “runaway” was the exact word used.

    Larry, “affordable housing” has been a major issue for years. I used to sit on Alexandria’s Landlord-Tenant Board and it was a problem 20 years ago. HOWEVER, it will not be helped by importing millions of unskilled workers AND their families to compete with our very own home-grown unskilled workers. Pardon me if I favor US workers over all others and if I note that this isn’t helping our school systems compete in STEM-related subjects.

    You also talk about resorts that import workers from Eastern Europe and house them as part of their benefits. That certainly beats tossing them into the competition for local affordable housing but I read recently that 2007 is one of the worst times for college students to be seeking summer employment in something like 17 years. So what do college students work AT in the summer? Well, construction, RESORTS, restaurants, and as interns. Unskilled foreign workers have the first 3 sown up and foreign college students compete with US students on the last. If mom and dad are paying the college bills and Sean and Melissa are merely wanting extra money for a spectacular trip at winter or spring break later on, maybe we’re OK. If on the other hand, they are working to finance college themselves – and increasingly many are, that’s another story because then they end up with bigger debts and a longer wait before they can buy the house and have the kids later on; or worse still, they drop out altogether.

    Deena Flinchum

  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    full disclosure:

    use of human beings for cheap labor because they are “illegal” and cannot file a complaint is just as repugnant to me as what was done in Jamestown or the South … OR Peabody Coal in WVa – that resulted in unions.

    I have absolutely no sympathy for anyone in business – who essentially preys on the weak and defenseless for cheap labor.

    On the other hand – keeping folks desperate for the funds necessary for their families… “elsewhere” in Mexico.. is a repugnant concept to me also.

    Canada allow immigrants to work during high seaons.. get a fair pay for their work – and then return to their home country.

    The reason we don’t do this – for hispanics but we do – do this for Eastern Europeans… ought to be something we all understand the “why” behind…

    ..and I agree with Denna… anyone who hires a worker – knowing full well their illegal status… and uses that status as a way to treat them unfairly with regard to wages and work conditions … in my mind.. deserves to be charged with a crime – and punished… and I bet most ordinary folks in this country would agree with that.

  22. Groveton Avatar
    Groveton

    The following statement was written by a blogger who describes herself as being from South Western Virginia:

    “US builders are using low-paid illegal workers. How many young black construction workers do you see in NoVA? Although blacks make up only about 4% of the population here, we have young black construction workers. Why do you think that is?”.

    What does being black have to do with being in the US legally or illegally?

    There are literally hundreds of millions of black people from Central and South America.

    “How many young black construction workers do you see in NoVA?”.

    The only possible implication to draw from this racist statement is that black people are obviously American citizens. If you see young black people at a construction site then you are looking at Americans. I can only assume that if you see young brown people at a construction site you are looking at illegal immigrants.

    By this logic, the Brazilian soccer team would have a number of Americans while Alberto Gonzalez would be an illegal alien.

    Even by the standards of 96% white South Western Virginia – this is a new low in commentary.

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