Home Real Estate Integrative Moves Means What, Exactly?

Integrative Moves Means What, Exactly?

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There’s a bit of buzz building out there in the RE.web about a new… company? nonprofit organization? called MoveSmart.org. It’s a website that is looking launch in Q3 of 2008, and I gather that they are doing fundraisers and lining up corporate sponsors and such.

From the MoveSmart.org website itself we get the following description.

Until now, information on neighborhoods has been buried in the back of academic reports, pinned to community center bulletin boards, and locked in data sets only available to planners, inaccessible to those who would benefit from it the most: housing seekers looking for a better neighborhood. MoveSmart.org will leverage the power of this information by combining these and other data sources into a single mapping engine built into a full-featured site that includes guides, tools, calculators, forums, and social networks, all designed to foster racial and economic integration.

Previous integration initiatives have proven costly and focused on families receiving public aid. Housing seekers with unlimited funds have always had the luxury of living where they choose. But for millions of families who have limited resources, finding the right neighborhood is difficult. MoveSmart.org will educate housing seekers about the benefits of integrative moves while at the same time providing suggestions on where to move, guides on how to move, and information on how to get involved in their new neighborhoods, inspiring pride in a new community and putting them on a path to true integration.

There’s a nice video there with some funky music too if you care to view/listen.

Seems to me like they’re a typical set of liberal do-gooders, and since this isn’t a political site, I won’t comment on that angle much. However, it is interesting that MoveSmart.org is “an Illinois not for profit corporation currently under the fiscal sponsorship of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc.”

This CLC would be the same CLC that sued Craigslist in 2005/2006, alleging that “since July 2005, craigslist, Inc. has published and continues to publish housing ads from the metropolitan Chicago-area that are discriminatory on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion, color and familial status in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.” (Courtesy of Wikipedia) Of further interest is to note that the U.S. District Court flat out dismissed the case on November 14, 2006, and then flatly refused the Motion to Reconsider in 2007. A bigger bitch-slap from the bench, you will seldom find.

Nonetheless, it appears that the good people at CLC and elsewhere, having learned that the courts aren’t going to give them what they wan, have decided to try market forces instead.

This should be interesting.


So the idea of “integrative moves” means what, exactly?

Apparently, the idea — according to ReadWriteWeb — is that:

people without a whole lot of money have less access today to in-depth research about the areas in a city they might want to move to. By giving anyone the ability to research the public services, cultural opportunities and racial diversity of a neighborhood, traditionally less empowered people can make more informed decisions about moving.

Let’s clear up some facts, first, shall we?

First, the idea that poor people have less access today to in-depth research about a neighborhood is… shall we say unsupported by the facts?  Take Trulia.com for instance. It’s a pretty big site. They have neighborhood information. In fact, here’s their page on Chicagoland — the target market for MoveSmart.org.  And is that “Community Links” I see under “Chicago Community Info”?  Why yes it is.  Trulia is easily accessible from any library computer located anywhere in Chicago — or anywhere in the world for that matter. Oh, and don’t tell anybody I told you this… but Trulia is what all the rich folk use too.

But it’s not “in-depth” research! Well, see, all you’d have to do is to walk into a broker’s office — like this one, for example, in Chicago (let us note that she is a GRI who “specializes in South Side of Chicago”) — and ask for some “in-depth” research. Guess what? She has to provide you with in-depth research! It’s the law. Guess what else? She has to do this whether you’re Bill Gates or a bum with two nickels to your name. It’s the law. What in-depth research would you like that all the rich people get? Median housing price trends? Crime stats? School information? Whatever it is, if the agent has the info, she has to share it with you — or not share it with you — without regard for race, sex, national origin, religion, color and familial status. She can’t charge you for such a report.

If she doesn’t give you the info, but turns around and hands it to the yuppie couple next to you, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. will be at your doorstep within minutes to help you fight such injustice. You may be able to move out of the South Side of Chicago with your winnings.

So let’s put this myth to rest that somehow rich people have access to “in-depth” information that the poor folk just can’t afford.

The real benefit, I gather, will be that “by giving anyone the ability to research the public services, cultural opportunities and racial diversity of a neighborhood, traditionally less empowered people can make more informed decisions about moving.”

Okay, let us get real, shall we?

Maybe no reader of this blog has been “traditionally less empowered” living in Chicago, but yours truly has. As a new immigrant to this country, my mother found a 1BR “apartment” (if it can be graced with such a name) and our family of four lived there for almost a year. The place (if memory serves) had rats, cockroaches (I had the pleasure of eating a roach one morning with my Capt Crunch — make that Capt Extra-Crunch), and actual centipedes crawling up the toilet bowl. The hallway was always dark, no matter how often you changed the lightbulb, because the drug addicts who used our apartment building (with its non-existent “security system” — aka, a lock) to shoot up heroin were constantly breaking them. It usually smelled like three day old urine. I still remember with great fondness that special Sunday in December when we came home from Christmas Eve services to find that a very large man with a very large knife had blocked the door to our little apartment completely blitzed out of his skull on heroin or crack or whatever. We did not try to wake him.

Were we living in this absolute shithole because we lacked knowledge about the neighborhood? Because we didn’t research the public services, cultural opportunities, and racial diversity of the neighborhoods in Chicago?

No. They knew exactly which neighborhoods to avoid — thanks to the old-school technology of the immigrant community. Everyone they knew told them to stay the hell away from that part of Lawrence Avenue. It was dangerous, filled with drug dealers, gangsters, pimps, and no place to raise two young boys.

They just couldn’t afford anywhere else.

We moved the hell out just as soon as we were able to move.  Information, or lack thereof, had nothing whatsoever to do with our decision to live there, and to leave there.  Economics did.

More informed decisions about moving? Is MoveSmart.org seriously claiming that the only reason why the people in the ghetto slums don’t move out to the suburbs is because they don’t know any better? That the residents of Camden, NJ would move to Princeton if only they knew what cultural opportunities could be had near the Princeton campus?

It’s the kind of ridiculous assumption only academics and lawyers who have never been “traditionally less empowered” could make.

So let me be kind. Let me assume that MoveSmart.org isn’t actually selling that particular line of reasoning.  It’s insulting to poor people, for one, and not based on reality, for another.

Instead, let me assume that what MoveSmart.org is really up to is trying to appeal to people who aren’t “traditionally less empowered” to move into neighborhoods they would not have considered in a million years.

After all, that makes more sense given this:

MoveSmart.org will educate housing seekers about the benefits of integrative moves while at the same time providing suggestions on where to move, guides on how to move, and information on how to get involved in their new neighborhoods, inspiring pride in a new community and putting them on a path to true integration.

So really, ‘integrative moves’ means rich people moving into bad neighborhoods.

The information on ethnic diversity will make you feel good about yourself, that you’re not shutting yourself away in that lily-white suburban gated community of yours.  No, you can be one of the enlightened ones.

The information on how to get involved in your new neighborhood will help you channel all that social-justice-doing passion to right causes.

The information on public services and cultural opportunities — that simply don’t exist in your gated community or downtown luxury doorman building — will inspire you to feel pride in your “authentic community” while laughing with pity at those brainwashed yuppies you left behind.

All this will put you — and your new neighbors — on a path to “true integration” whatever that means.

Why, it’s so moving that I’m tempted to do some ‘integrative moves’ myself.  But then, I managed to move out of those communities (some might say, escaped the ghetto, as it were)… so going back has very little appeal for me personally.

Nonetheless, I think this is a great idea.  It’s a fantastic campaign, and one that I can get behind 110%.  Having rich people move into crappy neighborhoods is a great way to revitalize the community, inspire pride in the neighborhood, and put the city on a path to “true integration”.

You first.

I recommend that the partners of Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal — the Chicago firm so prominently in support of MoveSmart.org — be the first wave of “integrative moves”.

For that matter, what is the deal with Jay Readey, a board member of MoveSmart.org?  He’s apparently a resident of the Village of Olympia Fields, IL.  That village strikes me as distinctively in need of integrative moves.

According to Trulia.com, Olympia Fields boasts a median household income of $94,827, which is more than twice the state average of $46,590.  Almost 14% of the households make more than $200K a year, as compared to 3.15% of Cook County, and 2.81% of Illinois.  According to villageprofile.com:

The Village takes great pride in its standards of excellence in residential living. Its tree-lined streets are your gateway to its varied architecture of stately homes situated on large wooded lots. Our residents also benefit from the abundant award-winning green spaces available for recreation or for simply enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of a country setting. These standards of excellence have attracted a racially and ethnically diverse population of involved and active residents that participate in and demand high standards of performance from Village government, the school districts, and other institutions and governmental bodies that impact our community. There is simply no better place to live or raise a family and enjoy the benefits of a diverse community working together.

Dang.  Do the “traditionally less empowered” people of Chicagoland know about Olympia Park?  Treelined streets!  Stately homes on large wooded lots!  Abundant green spaces that win awards!  Good schools!  There is simply no better place to live or raise a family and enjoy the benefits of a diverse community working together, apparently.

I think what makes a lot of sense, from an “integrative moves” standpoint, is for a lot of the residents of the South Side of Chicago to move to Olympia Park, and for a lot of the residents of Olympia Park to move to the South Side of Chicago.  Clearly, Mr. Readey should lead that charge.

Of course, he would have to take this sort of advice into consideration:

The City of Chicago and its alleged bad areas, are only bad, if you know some important details, from the person describing “A bad area”

If you are White, above the age of thirty, married or single any income, The entire southside is bad,

If you are Hispanic any age, any income, married or single, The entire southside is the American Dream come true

If you are Black single or married, over the age of twenty five, middleclass income or higher you already know you own the southside, and let me say thankyou for allowing me to live in your southside

If you are employed or soon will be employed by the City or County, you must live in the southside otherwise you will be uncool and laughed at

If you are Gay, the entire southside is very bad for you.

If you are an artist, musician, or actor, the entire southside is very bad for you

If you are an enviromentalist, tree hugger, and lover of nature the entire southside is heaven for you and welcome……..

If you are a young black college student the entire southside is the mecca of African American History, and the birthplace of some of the most respected and influential black leaders of our century

If I skipped any particular demographic, or cross section of American populus, its because you or they dont live here……….

(From a poster named MarquettePark)

Well, at least he doesn’t say anything about rich corporate attorneys.  That oughta be a relief.

Can we assume that this sort of information can be found on MoveSmart.org?

For that matter, can we assume that MoveSmart.org — unlike any of the existing real estate websites out there in rich-people-land — will publish detailed crime statistics by neighborhood, including the number of gangs that operate there?

What about the actual performance of the schools?  Would MoveSmart.org tell you just how a particular high school ranks against others in the city, county, state, and nationally?  Would it tell you how many teachers have been suspended for one reason or another?  Would it tell you how many kids are arrested at school each year for weapons violations?  For rape?  For violent felonies as a juvenile?  I’d find such information extremely useful if I were a “traditionally less empowered” person trying to figure out where to send my kids to school.

What about negative environmental factors, such as the existence of a prison nearby?  Or that a particular neighborhood is in the flight path of jet airliners out of O’Hare?

Would MoveSmart.org really have all of the negative information that most real estate websites are afraid to carry because they might get sued by a group like Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for violating the Fair Housing Act?

If they would, then MoveSmart.org will provide a tremendous resource to the real estate web community as a whole, and indeed, to the consumers who are seeking real information about a neighborhood.

But if they would not, if all that MoveSmart.org is at launch is trying to put lipstick on a pig to convince rich socially conscious yuppies to move to neighborhoods that all of the residents are desperately trying to get out of… well, then best of luck to them.

They’ll need it.

-rsh

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Rob Hahn
Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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