Recently I read about a part of the $787 billion Stimulus Plan President Obama has spent, that affects my town of Binghamton, New York. The funds that will be coming to the city is just over $850,000. Not a huge sum, but in a small town like Binghamton it’s a lot.
This money is part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Obviously this is intended to improve neighborhoods across the nation. In Binghamton, the local press did a story of how 8 buildings are to be condemned. In addition some unnamed amount of funds are to be used to pay for apartment housing. Sounds good yes?
Not exactly. First consider this. The only housing project I am aware of going on in downtown Binghamton is student housing. And that was paid for before the Stimulus Plan. So where is the money going?
Another question is how much does it cost to tear down a building? If we look at just the 8 buildings that were detailed in the newpaper then that means around $100,000 per building. The average home in Binghamton does not cost that much. In fact you can easily buy a home in the range of $60,000 – which is including the increase in housing prices that has been going on for the last 6 months at least. So it would seem there is some waste there.
Separate of that is the question of what impact removing these houses has. Of the buildings identified, the neighborhoods are some of the worst in Binghamton. The homes on the same streets are in horrendous condition. The people there are lucky if they can be considered part of the local middle class (not the national average which is way higher). So fixing or removing 1 building is suddenly going to improve the neighborhood?
And this is in the face of the fact that every time there is a strong rain (which is frequent here) several areas have flooding, in part due to the poor drainage system, which cause traffic and health issues. It is in the face of the fact that 1 in 3 (if not more) storefronts in Downtown Binghamton is empty – and has been for the last 5 years I have lived here. In fact there are dozens of empty buildings in the downtown area right now. Not just the storefront, but the entire 4 or more stories of building. Which includes space that easily can be or is apartment space.
What stabilizes a community is jobs. Not short-term projects like tearing down a building, but a full-time consistent job. It gives the people in the area the funds to improve their homes, and buy furniture. It creates a feeling of anything but despair and disdain. It provides opportunity for a better life of a family.
What do apartments in a vacuous downtown mean? Nothing. Beyond students that only live in the city seasonally and would like to be closer to the bars, there is no benefit to citizens. There are no new jobs that are nearby for students, or citizens, to work at. There are no grocery stores close by. Nothing is centralized beyond the bars. Oh and 4 banks plus the sports arena. The framework for a thriving downtown it is not.
I’m not saying that the condemned buildings don’t need to be torn down. They do. But the limitiations on how the money from the Stimulus Package can be spent seem to be more waste than benefit. Because the decreasing numbers of citizens in Binghamton will not reverse itself with 8 more abandoned buildings no longer standing. Adding more aparment space in a town with ample cheap housing does not improve the standard of living. And none of this employs anyone (except the bars downtown).
It just makes me wonder where the stimulus is in the Stimulus Plan? Because the window dressing in Binghamton does nothing but anger me. I’m not paying a mortgage on top of my actual mortgage to watch a building be torn down and politicians claim that this rights the ills of the entire town. I’m just not that stupid.
How is the stimulus money being spent in your town or city? Is it actually creating real jobs? Is it improving the lives of people around you? Or are you finding that your $120,000 (approximately your share of future earnings for the entire stimulus plan including interest) is just going nowhere fast?
I really would like to know.