+ Oklahoma City Catholic Worker + Consume less, save & share more. + Fall 2002 + Page 4

Destroying the Housing of the Poor is Condemned by God

Rising rents and high density housing for the poor translate into more instability and economic crisis in their households, and that means more broken homes, more crime, more drug abuse, more child abuse, more homelessness, more school dropouts, more runaways. And that means more government expenditures for more prisons, more half way homes, more foster care, more welfare, more Medicaid, higher insurance premiums. . .

There are many theological controversies that we could find in the Bible, but there can be no real controversy about what the Bible says about the poor. For example, the prophet Nathan confronted David about his sin with this parable:

"In the same town were two men one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great abundance; the poor man had nothing but a ewe lamb, one only, a small one he had bought. This he fed, and it grew up with him and his children, eating his bread, drinking from his cup, sleeping on his breast, it was like a daughter to him. When there cam a traveler to stay, the rich man refused to take one of his own flocks or herd to provide for the wayfarer who had come to him. Instead he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for his guest."

Here in Oklahoma City, we steal the poor man's lamb all the time. We destroyed the Deep Deuce so that commuters from the suburbs could have easy access to downtown Oklahoma City. Those who benefitted from this were not the poor; the poor are the ones who had to move.

Oklahoma City destroyed the north side of NW 10th between Classen and Penn, also to benefit suburban commuters. Midwest City flattened a neighborhood populated mostly by World War II widows so that a rich corporation could build a big box store. Oklahoma City University, affiliated with the Methodist Church, got the City to declare its neighborhood "blighted" so it could buy the properties around its campus at cheap prices, and force those who didn't want to sell out of their homes. The federal government, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Oklahoma city, are set to destroy Walnut Grove and Riverside. Here again, the rich triumph over the poor. And Oklahoma County, which is not poor, is taking out the working class neighborhood on one side of Tinker Air Force Base, to "protect" the base, while giving away empty land on the other side of the base for economic development. Are you seeing something wrong with this picture?

If a terrorist came to Oklahoma City and destroyed hundreds of houses, we would all be up in arms in horror and outrage. Yet, our own governments are doing this and nobody seems to care. I sent a letter about the Walnut Grove and Riverside situation to virtually every church in town, and I received one response. Just about every issue of this newspaper we've published in 3 years has mentioned this problem, and Catholics just yawn.

How can people sit in churches and hear God's word proclaimed, and then go out into the world and be silent in the face of this evil? Maybe it's because God's word is censored in those churches, and people are not being taught their moral responsibilities towards the poor. Cafeteria Catholicism is not just a problem of liberals, it is also a problem of conservatives, although when it comes to issues like this, both liberals and conservatives tend to have better things to do than pay attention to what's happening to the poor. We should be ashamed of our collective silence regarding the ongoing political destruction of housing in poor neighborhoods. The Holy Father has made the church's teaching on this crystal clear, but as is so often the case, people praise the Pope, but are also quick to marginalize his teaching. The Protestants are doing no better; the Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians are as quick as anybody else to ignore the Bible's plain teachings about the poor, this is as true of Protestant liberals as it is of evangelical conservatives.

Thus, we the people will have to bear the consequences of our silent acquiescence with the cruelty, corruption, and venality of our leaders. A hundred houses here, a hundred houses there, pretty soon there is a serious impact on the affordable housing market. Rents are now rising for low income rentals and there is an evident shift towards high density apartment housing for the poor outside of the central city area. These two realities are contributing to increased instability and economic crisis in poor and working class households, and that means more broken homes, more crime, more drug abuse, more child abuse, more homelessness, more school dropouts, more runaways. And that means more government expenditures for more prisons, more half way houses, more foster care, more welfare, more Medicaid, higher insurance premiums, plus costs for things like anxiety, fear, pain and suffering resulting from both property crimes and violent crime. We may not be able to put a dollar cost on such happenings, but they certainly impact the quality of life. And everything we have to spend on those increasing costs, is money that isn't available to do other things. YOUR TAX DOLLARS ARE HARD AT WORK CAUSING TROUBLE FOR EVERYBODY.

The defenders of these "urban renewals" are always the ones who profit, not the ones who are hurt. Those who are relocated receive political prices, not market prices between willing sellers and buyers, set by appraisers hired by the city or the state. They sometimes don't receive enough to buy new homes, and if they are renters, they may not get any compensation at all (this depends on which level of government is doing the destroying). The entire process is rigged against the residents and to benefit the government.

Even if the residents were being fairly compensated, the problem is bigger than the particulars of any one of these projects. Destroying the housing of the poor is evil. It does not benefit the common good, it is a major factor driving the increasing social problems in this society. If we continue to let our city, county, and state politicians destroy the housing of the poor, we are shooting ourselves in both feet and asking for more trouble than any of us are willing to pay for.

The Bible is very clear: those who oppress the poor are going to hell. See Matthew 25 for the details. Cities and nations have been destroyed by God because they oppressed the poor. See the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum and Zephaniah for details. God loves the poor, and God will certainly punish all who persecute them. Proverbs, Psalms, Wisdom, and Sirach have lots of details about this. The proud, the rich and the mighty will be cast down, scattered, and confused, while the humble, the poor, and the rejected will be exalted. See Luke 1 for those details.

OK, so you are an atheist who doesn't care about God. Well, you better care about the secular consequences. The crime that is being created by the destruction of these neighborhoods won't happen downtown, it will likely be in your middle class neighborhood. The next time a burglar breaks into your house and steals your stuff, and every time afterwards that you pay a substantially increased insurance premium, don't forget to thank your state and local politicians, the Chamber of Commerce and the trucking and highway construction special interests, who are all guilty of promoting the idea that the neighborhoods of the poor should be destroyed to enhance our economic development prospects.

Meanwhile we mourn the destruction of Walnut Grove and Riverside. It is our good fortune to know and be friends with people there. Oklahoma City will be poorer for the conversion of these neighborhoods into 10 lanes of traffic.

Oklahoma City will never find the prosperity we are so desperately seeking as long as our leaders wage class warfare on the poor and working class neighborhoods. Solidarity is an important social virtue that our leaders seem to think is optional. As a result, nobody's property is safe in this town, all of us are at risk of the greed of someone who is bigger, stronger, and with better political connections. That's what happens when people don't pay proper attention to their local government and local issues, and thus as good men and women do nothing, evil is triumphing at Oklahoma City Hall.