Last night for those of you that have HBO (or subscribe to HBO Now) might have caught the mini series premiere of “Show Me A Hero” by the creator of acclaimed shows “The Wire” and “Treme.” It is on the topic of the very sexy and gripping affordable housing. And not just any affordable housing, affordable housing forced on the city of Yonkers in the 80s to desegregate the city. I thought this synopsis on Slate did a good job of preparing the viewer for what to expect or allow people who don’t intend on watching the show some highlights to sort of understand what the mini series is about.
A long-gestating lawsuit has finally found Yonkers, a working-class city just north of the New York City border, guilty of intentionally segregating its housing. The judge presiding over the case has ruled that 200 units of low-income housing must be built on the east, and white, side of the city. That is, more precisely, 200 units of housing, to be spread out over eight different locations, in the white part of a city of a couple hundred thousand people that has spent 40 years practicing systematic housing discrimination and segregation. That is, also, 200 units of housing greeted by white homeowners as an existential threat to their property values and way of life, visited upon them by liberal outsiders, to be fought viciously and rancorously, lest any of the “public housing people” come to live next door.
Nick [Wasicsko] is happily swept into power by an incensed and racist cohort who expects Nick to fight the housing order, even though it is legal and will never be overturned, and disobeying it will bankrupt the city. Nick is not a simple, straightforward hero: He doesn’t come into office intent on doing the right thing, damn the consequences. He’s a cocky kid, tickled to be the county’s youngest big city mayor, who has to choose between being reasonable, responsible, and righteous or a recalcitrant, unrealistic bigot—when it is the latter choice that will let him keep his job. Nick does what is right. How he does this, and at what personal and professional expense, is the meat of Show Me a Hero, which, tellingly, gets its title from the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.”
It should be awesome.
This reminded me of some documents that I had requested a while ago. In the early 80s Alameda was also embroiled in its own affordable housing consent decree — folks around during that time would have the fuller story — and in response there was a measure placed on the ballot via voter signatures to place a moratorium on the books against any subsidized housing being built for five years in the City of Alameda. The only way around this was to take it to a public vote. Senior housing was, naturally, exempt from this law.
There’s one familiar name that pops up supporting this measure to stop subsidized housing being built in Alameda and she was just appointed to the Rent Review Advisory Committee by the Mayor.
Measure I, by the way, passed 9690 for and 5716 against.