They say money is the root of all evil: I have to agree.
Brick by Brick is founded on the idea that money can be a tool to transfer power from those that have it to those that don’t. Brick by Brick is founded on solidarity.
But the fact is, I have no idea why our supporters invest in our community housing project. I can only assume that they can appreciate the impact that a stable home in a nurturing environment can have on the lives of low-income people because they themselves have experienced isolation and exclusion.
Recently this assumption was put to the test when I was approached by a private real estate developer who was under fire for disregarding the needs of local residents. His objective is to transform a run-down building occupied by a variety of organisations that serve the local population into an attractive apartment building for young professionals. The zoning is clean and the city welcomes his project. But there is a problem: people are against it.
His project does nothing for locals who can’t afford the rent and need larger apartments and the services of community groups. He has been very candid with the media: he believes that renovating a run-down building is a noble contribution: by bringing wealthier tenants to the area he is helping to create opportunities for local businesses who employ local residents.
In any case, he reached out to me and said that he could help. It seemed like a no-brainer to me: a great opportunity to bag a big investment. The man donated $1 Million to the children’s hospital, he’s a philanthropist. If I met him and explained how his project exacerbates the stress under which residents live, and if I can get him to appreciate the importance of community owned and operated housing, he would pick Brick by Brick as his charity case and we could buy a building outright the next day.
Fortunately, in my excitement I mentioned this hair brained-scheme to some of my fellow residents at the community center after a public discussion organized by the Comité d’Action de Parc-Exention. I was berated for cavorting with the devil. So I came to my senses. Why settle for less? Why not ask for it all? The property that this man is developing is a landmark. It is the gateway to the neighborhood and could be a bulwark against gentrification in Parc Extension.
I don’t need to sell the project to anyone who does not see its benefits. The benefactors should identify with the beneficiaries, not objectify them. It is in Brick by Brick’s mandate to support and even initiate local organizing. If residents don’t want to let this one go, then I need to add this campaign to my agenda.
By helping to organise a public assembly around this, by pressuring the borough to scrutinize his request for permits, and by bringing media attention to the pressing needs of local residents, he may be forced to back down, in which case, someone will have to buy the building from him ;)
Oh, but buying a building costs money, so...