Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The American Dream

Working with government means you're usually behind the curve, and its decisions often seem random.  After many committee meetings, and poll-trolling, Word will come down that grants for this or that are available.  Then, every city worth its grant writer will miraculously find a need which must be filled to save the sky from falling.  In ensuing years I’ve often thought that if the government decided it was giving grants for manure, we’d wake up one morning to find Warren Street covered in horse shit.    

So during one of its eureka moments, government realized that owner-occupied housing stabilizes a neighborhood.  Hudson applied for grants to build some, and when they were awarded, as Captain Picard would say, we were asked to “Make it so, Number Two.”  So we started building on one of the worst streets in Hudson – nice little 3 bedroom ranches on small but separate infill lots.  And started selling them.  We were knocking on our tenants’ doors to tell them of this opportunity.  Word of mouth got out, and we were getting calls. 

It was a pretty simple and straightforward deal for the buyers.  They received a $15,000 no-interest loan towards their purchase price.  For every year they lived in the house, $3000 was forgiven, so if they stayed five years, the loan was forgiven completely.  

We were on a roll, and had built 13 houses, when our architect clued us in that B, the unscrupulous new director of the community development agency and her husband S had been shopping our materials suppliers with our blueprints.  Apparently they figured if we could do it, so could they.  But they couldn’t.  Our construction came to a screeching halt, and although we were still fielding lots of calls about the houses, we told people to call the community development office.  Sadly, but not surprisingly, not a single additional house was ever built when we stopped.  Sometimes, while it’s good to be vindicated, it’s not really good overall.

Epilogue:  B and S didn’t last too long afterwards in Hudson, but not before making all kinds of internal deals, in which the community development agency passed along all its money to S’s private non-profit to “develop”, thereby squeezing two layers of administrative fees, and God knows what else, out of each round of funds.  She also “sold” many of the city’s loans to her husband’s company, and later bought them back when he’d made a mess of things and needed quick cash.  Amazingly, none of this came to light while it was happening, despite my very loud protesting to anyone who’d listen. 

P.S.  I called them B & S because it reminds me of b.s., which is what this duo fed the city during their years here.  

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