Urban Survival & Improvement in "Pages from a Popular History of Grand Rapids"

New River Free Press, February 1977/Reprint


Viable Housing in

Yellow Area


A Position Paper of
The Grand Rapids Fair Housing Task Force
January 25, 1977

STATEMENT. This task force has met for several months to study and attempt to understand the planning process in our City, particularly as it relates to housing in the Central City. We have tried to look at policies and plans, as well as what is actually happening. What we have found raises many concerns and questions for us because what we see looks like a conspiracy against poor people.

There's been a lot of talk in our City about neighborhood involvement in planning and some good things have happened--but our conclusion is that the pattern of neighborhood decay continues. As Vernon Jordan, executive director of the [National] Urban League said, urban planners "tell us that certain neighborhoods are dying, that they cannot survive, that the poor will just have to shift for themselves while their homes are bulldozed for projects that will attract the middle class back to the City." We see evidence of this happening in our City and we have formed a task force to express our concern.

Specifically, we are concerned about the future of the "yellow area" as it has been designated on the City planning map (i. e., roughly the area from Leonard to Lafayette to Cottage Grove to US 131) and as it represents the pattern of disinvestment in urban areas. We are not looking for easy answers or scapegoats--the problem is much too complex for that.

BACKGROUND. Who is the Fair Housing Task Force? We are a group of concerned citizens--people living in all parts of the City, both inside and outside the planners' "target area," black and white, ministers and lay people, some from organizations like the Urban League, NAACP, GRACE, and the League of Women Voters, and some representing only ourselves as citizens of the City.

For several months we have been focusing our attention on the City planning process, particularly the map showing the target areas as designated by City planners. That map indicates a central target area--an area approximately four square miles in size, shown in yellow on the City's map. According to 1970 census data this area is home for about 8% of the City's population or about 17,000 people. The population is about 50% black. This is about 40% of the City's black population as compared to about 5% of the City's white population. It is an area characterized by City planners as having a poor prospect for successful long term rehabilitation. According to City staff, it contains many blocks of industry, a relatively large amount of vacant land, and a high percentage of deteriorated housing, and they view the area's future as "uncertain." The task force however believes that to characterize the area this way is to buy into a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

We view its future as very certain--unless some big changes are made in how the City, its institutions, and its citizens think about the plan about the area. To us it looks very certain that the viable housing in that area will deteriorate rapidly unless our City decides that that must not happen, and provide incentives to make sure it does not happen.

What are the patterns? We have attempted to learn exactly what the City has in mind for this area. In Community Development (CD) terms, this appears to be the area where problems are too far advanced to be turned around by the amount of money available. While this area has come up for some public attention in the context of the CD planning process, our group is not interested first in the CD process; we are interested in the City planning process as a whole, and in what the City's designation of that area means in the context of long range planning.

Apparently planners feel this area of the City deserves CD money earmarked mostly for demolition. What concerns us is the apparent lack of a clear commitment to identify and save viable housing there, the lack of a clear commitment to create and maintain adequate low income housing in cooperation with the people who live there. Unless that commitment is made and kept, a program of inspections, code enforcements, re-evaluations, (not to mention the resulting condemnation and demolitions) becomes a two-edged sword. Such a program, carried out too late or without the accompanying assistance, does little else than accelerate the decline of a neighborhood.

What increases our concern is that the yellow area is so large and heterogeneous. It appears to us that the effect of that designation consigns the residential areas in four square miles of the Central City to an accelerated process of decay, clearance, and eventual re-use--by whoever can afford the costs incurred in making it reusable. Meanwhile, what resources are available for people committed to keeping up their homes in that area? What does the City have to say to those who find that their resources and options have become even more limited because of the City's designation of that area?

That is a particular focus of our concern: that the designation of that area on the CD target map, whatever it was meant to convey, has had the effect of "officializing" and accelerating the debilitation of the area. For example, there is evidence to indicate that when local FHA officials were informed of the map they began talking about the area as an area, an area "which the City feels is beyond hope. It is the yellow area on the map. Not much can be done there. Properties are deteriorated, but we might take some under 223 (e) (high risk) on a case by case." Subsequently, conversations by our task force with City staffer Milt Rohwer about this map resulted in a letter from him to the director of FHA Insuring Office, in which Rohwer sought to clarify the CD efforts of the City with regard to the target areas. Rohwer indicates that in the yellow area the City is primarily focusing on getting rid of derelict structures, improving vacant lots, and providing emergency repair money, as well as intensifying inspection of rental property.

To us the implication is clear that the City is judging that there is no housing with a long term future in the entire "yellow area" of the map. That judgment, signalled by the designation of the area on the map, affects the morale and decision-making of residents; it reduces still further the availability of financing for sales and repairs of homes; it sets a low expectation for the level of services in the area. It is the final discouragement for those who have worked hard to keep their homes livable, neat, and in good repair. It sets roadblock in front of fledgling neighborhood organizations struggling to retain viability for their neighborhood.

Furthermore, we are concerned because not only does the planners' action have the effect of putting the seal of the City on the process of urban blight, but in addition, we have been able to learn of no plan at all for the future of that area, much less for the people who now live there!

If we all act as though that area has no future, then surely we will make it so. To us it seems obvious that the City must begin to plan in a meaningful way, with the residents of the "yellow area" for the area's future.

  1. We call upon the City to redesign the CD map--to take a new look at the "yellow area" and designate areas within it with much more precision, specificity, and accuracy; to do that in cooperation with the residents of those areas; and to do it in the context of a commitment to the people who live there.
  2. We call upon the City to take a leadership role in marshalling the resources of FHA, banks, churches, and others, for reopening opportunities for people living in the "yellow area."
  3. We support the concept, proposed by the CD planning committee, of a pilot area slated for capital improvement funds, for example, the Franklin-Hall-Division-Madison area.
  4. We inform the City that we are supporting efforts by members of our task force to initiate legal action against the City for discrimination in planning services, and use of CD monies.

A New River Free Press Reprint/February 1977

New River Free Press:

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From 1973 to 1977 Grand Rapids' Independent Voice

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Reprinted as part of a new, continuing
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The Rapids: in briefs

From New River Free Press, February 1977, page 6

EUGENE PROCTOR. As Elias Lumpkins' two-year term as president of the local branch of the National Association for the advancement of Colored People came to an end recently, Eugene Proctor, 44, has been elected president. Eugene Proctor: married for 24 years; wife's name--Virginia Proctor; six children (from 15 thru 23 years); two grandchildren; presently sales representative for a local automotive warehouse, part time real estate salesman, and operator of a towel service. The former assistant director of Baxter Community Center is a member of the following organizations: executive board for Camp Tall Turf (Christian Camp for Inner-City Youth), past president of the board (1974); board of directors for Evangelical Committee for Christian Education Scholarships (ECCES); Black Businessmen's and Professional Men's League; evaluation board of the Synodical Committee on Race Relations (SCORR); Urban League. Eugene Proctor has also been actively working with a task force reviewing the inadequacies in the area's housing for minorities.


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Posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 at 03:52PM by Registered CommenterMichael Chacko Daniels | CommentsPost a Comment