(Hands together, and DIVE into this rabbit hole)
I read a lot of local news and information. All of the time. It is somewhat of a literary addiction for me. But just like any addiction, there are times when one is immersed in their pleasure, and they come up fast for air because they’ve been frightened by what they’ve just seen.
As Cherry Hill’s local political atmosphere has heated up, substantially, over the past year, some of the hottest topics the community has debated are housing and commercial developments. This past Monday evening, the township council tabled a vote on a new housing development ordinance, known colloquially as the Hampton Road Redevelopment ordinance. The elected representatives were aware ahead of the public meeting that many residents from the Still Park neighborhood were opposed to this development, and many other residents from elsewhere in the township were going to be present.
The fact that the township council tabled the vote left me feeling impressed. It was a clear change to what many governmental skeptics like myself refer to as, “business as usual”. (P.S. A healthy democracy requires skepticism)
Yet, as I sat through the three hour public meeting, and continued to read internet comments in various locations, I became less impressed with certain themes which were used by my neighbors to express opposition to the planned 300-unit apartment complex. In hopes of avoiding the singling out of any specific individual or any specific group, I’ll encapsulate the ever-present themes of opposing apartment complexes, renter units, and affordable housing as the traditional suburban attitude of, “there goes the neighborhood, my backyard, and my property value”.
It is very progressive these days to simply question a government’s plans and motives. It is very progressive to request that appropriate studies, such as environmental and traffic studies, be completed before approving redevelopment plans. It is very progressive to request specific policies from elected officials.
It is also very progressive to advocate for a more inclusive redevelopment plan which calls for better access to public transportation, world class efficiency features, and opportunities to own in the future. It is super progressive to foresee logistical problems due to overcrowded school buildings while a school district appears to already be in desperate need of reconstruction.
It is not progressive at all, to oppose an apartment complex with 15% of the units being designated for affordable housing, because of a homeowner’s assumption that they will lose property value.
Being a progressive requires Americans to think about more than just themselves in policy making situations. Don’t believe me? Ask Bernie Sanders here around 1:30 as he states that worrying only about, “me me me and my family” is a rather right-wing ideology.
Being a progressive includes the likelihood that a better-off individual will lose some wealth in order for a disadvantaged individual to have a better shot at a more secure and healthier livelihood.
This is not to suggest that I think the proposed plan for the Hampton Road Redevelopment should have been approved, as is. No way! Despite the in-person back and forth between residents and township officials on Monday, there was clearly an issue about who was informed about the project and who was not. No matter what steps the township took to inform residents there were still some present that evening who were unaware, and I’m certain that the township recognizes that more work needs to be done on that front. There was also a very big issue with certain redevelopment studies not having been completed. Without an environmental impact study, any type of redevelopment could irreparably harm an ecosystem, and that certainly is not progressive at all. (Since when does Cherry Hill have owls?! Let’s keep them, please.)
Cherry Hill will face more and more of these tough policy decisions. Why? Because for decades, it was okay, in fact even noble and patriotic to sue the State over affordable housing obligations. So, for decades, Cherry Hill built very little affordable housing and instead sold a lot of land for commercial use. There is not much space left for affordable housing in general, let alone any perfect locations where there will be zero opposition from the community.
I recommend a quick read of the synopsis of the book, Climbing Mount Laurel by Dr. Doug Massey. As a researcher at Princeton University, his book explains how opportunities to affordable housing within safer and wealthier settings lifted many families above the poverty threshold, thus ending the generational cycle of poverty.
That is progressive.
To close, we must push for more affordable housing in Cherry Hill. Specifically, we must push for more family designated units. Kudos to Councilwoman Roskoph for reminding Cherry Hill that real-life humans need safe and secure places to live and raise their children, too.