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Note: The following “Letter to the Editor” expresses the views and opinions of the author(s) and not necessarily that of The Sun Times News management or staff.

Dear Dexter: An Appeal to the Higher Angels of Our Nature!

On Monday, December 9th, I attended a meeting of the Dexter City Council, primarily to listen to the concerns of the community in regard to the proposed low income affordable and supportive housing to be built on Dan Hoey Road.  Although I had been prepped by colleagues to expect some vitriol, I was nonetheless saddened by what I heard from a small but vocal group of Dexter residents who are in opposition to the effort.

The overarching theme of their remarks was that the proposed 24 unit development plus a new Faith in Action food pantry would bring criminal elements into the community and more specifically would threaten the safety of local youth. The development, to be called Hilltop View Apartments, will be built near existing schools. It was suggested that drug abusers or sexual and mentally ill deviants were sure to move into Hilltop and the demise of their beloved Dexter would soon surely follow. It sounded like being poor was the equivalent of being a criminal or at least a criminal in waiting.

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In the recent past, I had the opportunity to talk with two of the people expressing their opposition—I tried to answer their questions, speak to their concerns, and explain who would be moving into the apartments and how supportive services would be delivered to ensure successful tenancy. By and large, the majority of the households will be occupied by parents with children. Although some may have substance abuse issues, as do many in our communities, tenants will not be allowed to conduct themselves in either a criminal or anti-social manner unchecked.  If a tenant flagrantly and repeatedly violates their lease, they will not be allowed to remain a tenant at Hilltop View Apartments.  Although Faith in Action works very hard to ensure that every tenancy is successful, sometimes that energy is not returned in kind and it becomes necessary to evict a household that has shown they do not want to honor their lease.

At the meeting and also during discussions that I have had with those in opposition, I have stressed that the supportive services model is dynamic and assertive, never passive.  I talked about our work together at Sharon Ann Apartments in Chelsea, our first collaboration with Avalon, and stressed that although only five of the units are officially receiving supportive services, all the tenants in the 17 unit building have received case management services (i.e. supportive services) from Faith in Action.  I have also explained the model of service delivery that we use at Sharon Ann—e.g. regular weekly on-site office hours that include one-on-one sessions with tenants as needed, regular monthly tenant meetings and other activities that enhance the overall quality of life.  Because we work hard to create community, the tenants are active participants in helping us to identify problems as they arise and often are key actors in resolving said problems.

The tenants at Sharon Ann Apartments are the working poor, not drug addicts. They are parents with children working full time at low paying jobs, older folks experiencing significant disabilities, and single adults working multiple part-time jobs. Just the other day, a mom with her middle-school-aged daughter came down to the office to tell us that she just got straight A’s in her first semester at college. I will always remember the expressions on their faces—Mom, proud of her accomplishments and the example she was setting for her daughter and the child, so very proud of mom.

In conclusion, I would like to stress a few things. First, Faith in Action invited Avalon Housing into Chelsea and now into Dexter to help us develop affordable housing for the populations that we serve. Second, we entered into this collaboration because of the lack of affordable housing for the 200 plus households that we serve in both communities who are paying on average, 50-60% of their income (and often much higher) toward their housing. Lastly, the people we serve, many of whom are couch surfing, doubled up with family or friends, are all holding on by their fingernails because they don’t generate enough income to afford housing in Dexter.  We currently serve more than enough families in Dexter to fill all 24 units at Hilltop View apartment several times over. This is the population that I am dedicated in serving and who I hope, in large part, will benefit from our efforts.

In the immortal words of George Baily to Mr. Potter in the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, “this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”

Respectfully submitted by Doug Smith, Social Worker, Faith in Action

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