The Politics of Poverty, Part 2

Today in St. Paul, the Chairperson of the Met Council regional government agency delivered a speech from the throne-style address on the State of the Region.  It turns out that the government agency that runs our local bus service has gotten into the income redistribution business.  No, really.

Met Council Chair Susan Haigh delivered her remarks this morning on the campus of the private Macalester College.  It turned out to be a speech on race relations.  She said,

As a country and a region, we have made progress on race relations and equal opportunity.  But it’s not enough.  In fact, our region has some shocking race-based disparities that are the very worst in the nation – worse than Atlanta, Dallas and Washington DC.I don’t know about you, but quite frankly I am embarrassed that our region is at the top of the list of the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan areas with the worst race-based income disparities in the country.If we want the future I just described for all of our people, we must change.

OK so far, but what does any of this have to do with our region’s water utility?  As I described in Part 1, the Met Council is implementing a bizarre, Federally-mandated plan to relocate low-income households, scattering them across the region.  As Chair Haigh explains,

Poverty by itself really isn’t the only problem.  As you can imagine, people who live in neighborhoods where most of their neighbors are also poor encounter problems that higher income neighborhoods have less of…
…These poor and segregated neighborhoods are what we term ‘racially concentrated areas of poverty.’

The Met Council claims that scattering our low income families will provide benefits for everyone,

Those improvements create nearly $35 billion more in income to be spent in our regional economy for housing, childcare, education, healthcare and consumer goods.

The logical progression escapes me.  It reminds me of the thinking behind South Park’s underpants gnomes, who created the famous formulation,

The joke being that by diligently and earnestly engaging in an effort, you will produce the desired result:  regardless of how unconnected your efforts are to your goals.

The same goes for the Met Council: Phase 1, scatter low-income families, Phase 2, ?, Phase 3, growing economy.  In the latest draft of the Fair Housing & Equity Assessment (FHEA), the Met Council attempts an explanation,

To the extent that people of color and low-income people cannot live in communities of their choice, they cannot access the specific types of opportunities those communities offer.  Where one lives matters, because one’s place of residence determines one’s position within the regional landscape of opportunity.

The Met Council will be finalizing its fair housing plan over the next year.  It’s an effort worth following as it evolves.