Let’s Take a Look at Housing in Mayor Pete’s South Bend, Indiana.
1,000 houses in 1,000 days?
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana seems to represent everything that the mainstream media likes and values in a democratic presidential candidate. As an ex military man, and openly gay Ivy League educated Rhodes Scholar from the Midwest, “Mayor Pete” certainly checks all the boxes that make up an interesting politician. That being said, I’m not sure anyone expected a small-city mayor to make such a meteoric rise in the race to be our nation’s President. But with newfound fame and popularity comes newfound scrutiny, and Buttigieg has not been exempt from this.
On the “Meet Pete” section of his website peteforamerica.com, Buttigieg calls for “a future in which every American has the freedom to live a life of their choosing; where our republic grows more and not less democratic; where racial justice is reality and not a dream; where we’ve put an end to endless war; where we’ve summoned national will to meet the challenge of climate change; where everyone has the health care they need; and where everyone has the chance to find purpose and belonging in our economy and our country.”
The website goes on to tout his accomplishments as Mayor of South Bend, and claims that “Pete emphasized building a South Bend community where every resident-regardless of race, religion, gender, or orientation-could feel safe and included.”
So, what initiatives has Buttigieg been involved in that emphasized this vision for his community?
With a population that dropped from 132,445 in 1960 to 101,168 in 2010, South Bend was not unlike other Midwestern cities with a growing number of vacant and abandoned homes. After he took office Buttigieg appointed a task force made up of for profit and nonprofit developers along with city residents to analyze the scope of the problem. The task force found 1,900 vacant homes and 1,275 abandoned home throughout the city of South Bend. Buttigieg proposed addressing the issue with both a rehabilitation and demolition effort that he called the 1,000 houses in 1,000 days initiative.
The 1,000 homes, 1,000 days initiative meant that the city would be addressing about two-thirds of the vacant and abandoned homes in South Bend, specifically singling out the ones that could be rehabilitated or demolished quickly. By the end of the program, 427 homes were repaired and 569 were demolished, and 110 more were under contract to be demolished. While it’s not difficult to see the appeal in revitalizing a struggling city by tearing down its old and abandoned homes, the program certainly received warranted criticism.
With nearly 40% of the black population alone living below the poverty line in South Bend (well above the national average of 25.2%), critics of the 1,000 houses in 1,000 days initiative argued that plowing down and rebuilding homes in predominately minority-populated neighborhoods would lead to gentrification. In other words, changing these neighborhoods in such a quick and dramatic fashion would push out the low income community who had made it their home, and inevitably lead to the wealthier white people moving in and taking it over.
While some praised Buttigieg’s data driven approach to the housing problem and the decreasing crime rates and new tax revenue drawn from it, a buzzfeed article drew attention to others who argued that the 1,000 houses in 1,000 days approach lacked human touch and the knowledge of the long-lasting implications of such an ambitious initiative.
City council member Regina Williams-Preston was so angered by the aggressive code enforcement that caused poor people and people of color to be displaced from their homes that it prompted her to run for Mayor as well. Williams-Preston said she and her husband were victims of this code enforcement, and the fines their nine properties they hoped to restore reached $72,000 dollars.
But the complexity of South Bend’s story does not end there.
Despite her massive disagreements with the Mayor and his overall approach, Williams-Preston praised Buttigieg for making it easier for low-income residents to get the money and resources to fix up their homes. While he may have gone about it the wrong way, critics like Williams-Preston admired Mayor Pete’s open door and his willingness to listen. Buttigieg supported her 100 houses for 500 families initiative, that emphasized building affordable new homes on the now empty lots left behind after the demolitions.
So what can we learn from Mayor Pete, and his impact on the city of South Bend?
Among both his admirers and critics, Buttigieg seems to be as complex as the issues facing his city. His 1,000 houses in 1,000 days initiative may have been a very hasty approach to dealing with a problem that required a lot more careful consideration, but one of Mayor Pete’s redeeming qualities in this instance was his ability to listen and involve his critics in the effort to fix what had gone wrong.
With Buttigieg rising in the polls, more and more attention is bound to be drawn to the issues facing South Bend, Indiana. Problems within South Bend’s police force have also recently made national news, and called in to question just how much of the racial divide there is affecting the relations between white police officers and the African American members of the communities they patrol. It will be interesting to see how the story of South Bend, Indiana is told throughout the 2020 election season, and how Mayor Pete both portrays his successes and answers for the issues that continue to affect his community.