ON THE AVENUES: A luxury-obsessed Jeff Gahan has packed a board and now seeks to break the New Albany Housing Authority. Can we impeach him yet?
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
Righteous anger is a breathtaking emotion when properly harnessed, but the problem for me is that writing is hard enough without feeling like planting a fist upside a fascist’s cheek, or even better, a soulless bureaucratic timeserver’s noggin.
I’m telling you this because today’s column has been inordinately difficult for me to write. It is based on many conversations and a fair amount of reading, and even then, the complexity has been daunting.
I may get a few of the details wrong, though not the gist. I believe a mockery of social justice is about to occur in New Albany, and that a mock Democratic mayor is primarily responsible. Here is the story as I see it.
Once upon a time, Leni Riefenstahl produced a Nazi propaganda film called Triumph of the Will. We begin this week with Jeff Gahan’s animated sequel, Triumph of the Shill, because at next week’s city council meeting, they’ll be asked to rubber-stamp an updated “City of New Albany and Unincorporated Two Mile Fringe Area Comprehensive Plan (Year 2036).”
This plan purports to be a blueprint of sorts for future decision-making, though I’m here to tell you that it reads like a Disney screenplay as drunkenly sketched by an unemployed Hollywood Hills hack, with the final template-driven boilerplate cut and pasted by the very same hired outside engineering contractor which employs the economic development director’s wife, producing a document incorporating the posturing of a typically unrepresentative steering committee filled with usual suspects (city employees, contractors, realtors and “economic development” functionaries from DNA and One Southern Indiana), to the complete exclusion of alternative points of view, thus leading to this conclusion:
The Comprehensive Plan reveals far more about what members of the city’s “leadership” caste think of themselves, today, than where the city will be in 20 years.
In mind-numbing lockstep with all previous steering committees, this one is populated by 50-plus-year-old white people, with not a twenty-something in sight in spite of the “many years from now” orientation, and of course neither African-Americans nor Latinos were invited to participate.
In short, the updated comprehensive plan is equal parts fiction, theater and suburban-weighted dreckscape. Reading through these sterling commitments to bedrock facets of urban life that have remained entirely alien to the plan’s authors, most of whom don’t live these tenets and wouldn’t recognize one if it wandered by mistake into their Olive Garden chain-haven and pulled up a chair, you become jaded remarkable quickly.
For instance, I saw a handful of references to bicycling, felt a surge of excitement, then realized that all it really means is the procurement of more spray paint to draw sharrows, the most useless of a city planner’s excuses to do absolutely nothing, declare victory, and gaze lovingly at holiday photos of the time share.
I wouldn’t have bothered trying to digest this chamber of commerce-inspired triumphalist drivel if not for a fascinating revelation buried within a predictably dull January 4 press release from City Hall detailing the forthcoming demolition of affordable public housing units.
… As part of this process, along with the creation of an updated comprehensive plan for the city, recommendations have been made for a reduction in overall housing authority units. The new comprehensive plan calls for a reduction of units, along with a decentralization of current units in New Albany. The housing authority will soon begin demolition on 7 buildings, totaling 44 units, in the Parkview/Broadmeade neighborhood.
“This marks the beginning steps the City of New Albany and the New Albany Housing Authority will be taking to improve public housing. In conjunction with the comprehensive plan and the recommendation of CF Housing Group, we will reduce the density of public housing on HUD properties inside the city limits, improve existing public housing stock, and improve the quality of life for all residents,” stated Mayor Gahan.
Before I sketch the commencement of Gahan’s hostilities against the New Albany Housing Authority’s mandate to provide affordable housing in New Albany, which you will not be surprised to learn is understood far better by the NAHA than the G-A-H-A-N, please note that the passage above refers to recommendations in the Comprehensive Plan that are by no means legally binding, as plainly stated in the plan itself, and had not even been approved at the time of the press release’s writing.
But marvel at the pomposity of the raw cheek: Gahan writes his own Comprehensive Plan, and before it is so much as finalized, he’s already referring to it as though the document were Biblical, bearing force of law. Evidently this is a side effect of personality cults.
I’ll return to this Comprehensive Disneyfication Plan, and explain how the rush to approve it pertains to an accompanying push to eradicate the city’s affordable housing safety net. Since it’s hard to find a good starting point, let’s just dive into it.
Since 1937, in the aftermath of the catastrophic Ohio River flood, it has been the responsibility of the New Albany Housing Authority to provide affordable housing to residents of New Albany.
In essence, NAHA oversees affordable public housing for an economically challenged segment of the population that needs it most, in NAHA’s own housing units and through the Section 8 program, and including very many of what we might call the working poor.
Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see that NAHA’s work goes “beyond sticks and bricks.” It is a de facto social services agency, performing numerous functions that are not financed or prioritized by municipal government, whether out of ideology or indolence.
Yes, New Albany’s dense concentration of affordable public housing isn’t always ideal, although this is a discussion that ranges beyond my intent today. I’ll merely point out that many social workers will tell you that if concentrated affordable public housing is administered capably, as ours is, there are benefits to such density for economically challenged residents.
Overall, I believe that the NAHA plays a difficult hand quite well, and has a track record to prove it. The NAHA also has displayed an awareness of the need to evolve, and has planned for various contingencies, but what we’re seeing now is this vision, as articulated by NAHA and its director, Bob Lane, colliding headlong with the growing megalomania of Gahan, whose emphasis on luxurious capital projects does not include reasoned consideration for affordable housing and social services.
And hasn’t ever. Some Democrat he is – or is not.
The CF Housing Group is yet another of the city’s top-dollar consultants from afar (Washington DC), presumably engaged because all the professional planners we keep on cushy retirement tracks aren’t able to handle the heavy lifting – or maybe they’re just insufficiently versed in the required chicanery.
Contrary to what City Hall would have you think, the CF Housing Group has not been hired to help implement long-term objectives pursued for many years by the NAHA, and unsurprisingly, the perennially confused and deferential Chris Morris got it wrong in his News and Tribune article of January 5, perhaps because the city’s press release of the previous day was as much of a lie as any told recently by Donald Trump.
Work on reducing the number of units at the Broadmeade/Parkview complex began in 2012 as part of a strategic plan, according to Bob Lane, executive director of the New Albany Housing Authority. The plan was to accomplish the following goals: Analyze the need for deeply affordable housing; insure that any housing owned or operated by NAHA met stringent HUD guidelines for the ability to maintain such housing in a climate of diminishing funding; and seek out options to deconcentrate housing as such options are available.
“We have been in the process to do this … things wear out whether it’s automobiles or apartments,” Lane said. “These have served their purpose.”
For a very long time, the NAHA has been doing exactly as Morris’s description implies, with a critical difference, one that separates the NAHA’s intent from Gahan’s: The NAHA has been seeking to replace these public housing units on a one for one basis by building a new unit for each one torn down, utilizing tax credits and grants to finance the turnover.
Conversely, it has been Gahan’s long-term desire, one stated so often to so many city residents that almost everyone in town has heard him say it at one time or another, to eliminate affordable public housing in general, and “The Project” specifically, this being a dog-whistle to signify poor people, whom Gahan would ship in rail cars to tent camps in Galena if the law allowed.
Or, if the CF Housing Group finds a way to circumvent the federal mandates.
It’s easy to imagine how Gahan might direct the subservient Building Commission to condemn affordable public housing units, demolish these structures, and then deny building permits to rebuild them, all for whatever contrived reason suits a Bud Light Lime at the Roadhouse.
And what of the actual people who live in public housing, who have no representation in any of this?
Some of them will occupy naturally recurring vacancies in NAHA housing. Others will go into Section 8 housing, which is marginally better than NA’s signature slumlord rental housing sector * – and by the way, the Comprehensive Plan makes frequent mention of rental property registration as a dreamboat panacea to reduce instances of slumlord abuse, but strangely, no reference is made to what we have been told would be a second phase of slumlord taming – namely, meaningful enforcement.
Perhaps by 2036?
Interestingly, just last year the NAHA succeeded in aligning stars and tax credits after literally years of effort, with the aim of taking down public housing units by Erni Avenue and Bono Road opposite the hospital, and replacing them with supportive housing – in short, housing with services for a population that is very difficult to house.
In order to do this, the NAHA needed three signatures, one each from Gahan, David “I want 500 units gone” Duggins and the utterly defeated Scott Wood. It got none of them. The project fell apart, and the mayor’s bluff was called.
As for any of Gahan’s claims about cooperation with the NAHA board, it must be understood that he’s done everything in his power to subvert its legal operation, primarily by withholding appointments – an abuse so flagrant that Rep. Ed Clere has been compelled to author legislation in the House that would forestall such chump maneuvers in the future.
First Gahan starved the NAHA’s board by sitting on so many appointments that the body has scarcely been able to muster a quorum. Now, with CF Housing’s evasive blitzkrieg apparently ready to unleash, Gahan has reversed field and packed the board with the same old usual sycophantic suspects – Irving Joshua, already one of the most powerful non-elected officials in the city owing to his Redevelopment Commission fiefdom; former city attorney Stan Robison; and shameless longtime administration rent boy Bob “Judas” Norwood.
In yet another insider appointment to the board, which hasn’t been well publicized, city engineer Larry Summers’ mother Kathy has been placed in an NAHA seat.
The Green Mouse was told that she devoted ample time during her first meeting to issuing glowing paeans to the mayor, whose predilection for nepotism is so pronounced that the only real wonder in this instance is that one of his teenage daughters didn’t get the appointment instead.
Next week the revamped Comprehensive Plan will be approved by city council in the form of a single-vote resolution.
On Monday, February 13, at a meeting of the reconstituted and sardine-packed NAHA board, there’ll be something tantamount to a Memorandum of Understanding, and it also probably will pass with the secured votes Gahan has added. This will be some manner of boilerplate resolve to reduce our dependence on affordable public housing, sans substantive details about implementation, and as always, the least well off will be the ones to bear the brunt of “reform.”
(This pogrom will have been facilitated by people who pretend to be Democrats, and it you consider yourself one, my suggestion is to take a good, hard look in the mirror. You may well be mistaken, though there’s always time to recover).
In the real world, the debate about merits and demerits of affordable public housing is far more complicated than my efforts to write this column.
Want to scatter such housing? Fine, though trying to imagine a 6-plex in Silver Hills, or another perched among the Main Street median-enriched mansions is almost impossible. Can you imagine Bob Caesar and Greg Phipps going for it?
Almost inevitably, Jeff Gahan intends to deal with this unquestionable need for affordable public housing by privatizing it, and just as inevitably, this privatization will occur not from any weighing of options or earnestness in community dialogue, both of which terrify the agoraphobic Gahan, but by virtue of the acreage where the NAHA’s concentrated housing currently lies.
Those affordable public housing units along Beechwood? They’re smack in the way of projected luxurious gentrification near the shining edifice of Silver Street Park — an objective included in the Comprehensive Plan.
The NAHA’s newest units are at Riverside Terrace, and soon they’ll be an impediment to projected luxurious gentrification stemming from the Moser Tannery/Loop Island Wetlands/Rear Market prioritization, also discussed in the Comprehensive Plan, and which Team Gahan seems to believe will be the second coming of Windsor Palace’s minutely tended gardens.
Last, though surely not least, “The Project” itself is situated between the hospital and the urban golf course, in an area long regarded by city planners as some of the city’s best potential redevelopment property — if only those damned poor people would have the presence of mind to go somewhere else, though if they did, the exodus just might deprive State Street’s chain stores of a labor force, one currently within walkable distance of home.
Actually none of these factors account for the bulk of my anger.
Rather, at two junctures in Chapter Seven of the Comprehensive Plan, it is stated that in order to mollify community “concerns” over public housing, bureaucratic buzz phrases must be strung together in impenetrable, horridly written cadences, as designed to “newspeak” the reader into believing that City Hall is holding a forceps, when in fact it is a bulldozer, and in my view, these are among the most cowardly statements of sheer bullshit in Jeff Gahan’s long career of non-transparent underachievement.
Because: In citing community “concerns,” Gahan depicts himself as a wise, caped, fatherly hero, when in fact he’s more two-faced than Harvey Dent.
Yes, so his outrageous self-referential revisionism goes — Gahan spots his pasty white suburban voters armed with pitchforks, intent on burning “The Project” to the ground, and so he courageously intercedes: “Not on my watch! We’re humane! We’ll take care, and be fair; erect a patina of legality and a sheen of respectability; reduce densities, and decentralize … and turn the temperature up incrementally, so the frogs won’t ever know they’re being boiled alive.”
Gahan might be fooling you, but not me. What’s going down with the NAHA is a travesty of social justice, and even if you’re okay with the idea of eliminating affordable public housing, be aware that the mayor’s methodology is hardly less malevolent than Trump’s.
When Gahan comes for the residents of these houses, for the sole reason that there are more profitable uses for their homes, will anyone be there to do something?
Because what you permit, you promote. I’ll be at the NAHA meeting on the 13th at 5:30 p.m. Consider joining me, and we’ll watch the minions. Someone should.
* In a highlighted passage inserted in the January update of the Comprehensive Plan …
Future multi-family housing developments are strongly encouraged to include up to 8 percent of total units as affordable housing units. When the City of New Albany is a partner in the development of housing through public incentives, a total of 8 percent of the units shall be affordable.
Too late for Break Water, isn’t it?
January 19: ON THE AVENUES: Mezcal for what ails you.