To the Editor:
At a time when human rights, justice, fairness, equity, understanding, acceptance, inclusiveness, opportunity, and reassessment finally command our attention requiring listening, dialogue and actions championing change it is particularly disheartening that Chatham is in a resistive debate about affordable housing.
In their statement, candidates for township committee, Ashley Felice (R) and Mark Hamilton (R) refer to “the divisive climate pinning neighborhood against one another” and attribute that to Mayor Mike Kelly (R) a candidate for re-election.
The majority of letters to the editor in TAP (and other forums) oppose affordable housing. Often each letter is distinguished from another by the enclave neighborhood in Chatham where the writer resides. To illustrate, when there was a possible increased number of affordable units proposed at the skate park Rolling Hill and nearby residents took umbrage. Next, Meyersville Road and its neighboring residents stood against affordable housing at the proposed site in that area. Currently, residents in the “rural” River Road area are in opposition of affordable housing projected next to them. Moreover, there were letters calling into question a therapeutic group home that would serve the special needs of adults as part of the affordable housing remedy.
One letter writer, David Deuchler (TAP-June 15) describes tumultuous times in Chatham, animosity, and accurately notes despite plan after plan to fulfill affordable housing there is no consensus or even much singular support of it. Incorrectly though Mr. Deuchler, along with others, attributes this to Mayor Mike Kelly (R) and Deputy Mayor Tracy Ness (D). They allude to personal agendas and nefarious plans casting suspicion and pall over these elected officials, while at the same time never backing their accusations with facts. A more plausible reason for the protracted debate and lack of support for any affordable housing plans and the divisions ensued is NIMBY-ism.
NIMBY-ism is subtle. It says, “put it there; no it shouldn’t go here; it can’t go there, put it elsewhere”. There is never the right space or the right place. Property values become a more predominant discussion than human values. Claiming one’s intent is the preservation of the community and safeguarding what we have sure sounds more polite than saying “not in my backyard”, “there’s no room for you”.
For example, when affordable housing was discussed for the Southern Boulevard part of town concerns arose about an increase of cars from tenants and parking at the site and traffic. At the same time, there was concern if affordable housing was put near Meyersville Road or River Road then the tenants would be “forced” to live in a section without any transportation thus being deprived of essentials, like stores. So which is it? Even the notion (see candidates’ statement) that affordable housing tenants would be “forced to live” somewhere shows a misunderstanding of affordable housing opportunities. Folks make an application to affordable housing much like any other apartment dweller, (although admittedly the vetting process and eligibility criteria is more stringent and subject to more review). Quite frankly if an applicant does not choose to apply to Chatham over another area given their personal situation, needs, or transportation issues then they will simply apply elsewhere.
Every town should want to have some affordable housing to offer, especially towns rich in an abundance of opportunity which can and should be shared. ‘Less this sounds like simple musings of an affordable housing proponent or as Ms. Felice and Mr. Hamilton put it, affordable housing activists that Mayor Kelly is in a rush to capitulate to (see candidates’ statement), let’s not lose sight Chatham is under decades-old mandates still not fulfilled and is reportedly approaching a final deadline from Superior Court this August.
Understandably not everyone in the town may know this. Perhaps you are relatively new to Chatham and unaware that this issue has been subject to countless meetings under the tenure of multiple mayors, all Republicans. Or perhaps you are a long time resident of Chatham like Sean and Sue Leonard who also wrote a letter (TAP-June 17) self-describing in 21 years they never chose to attend a committee meeting yet expressed shocked by affordable housing decisions. Neither the topic nor the meetings are new, public commentary has been prolific, and as Mr. Deuchler writes recent meetings have gone on for historical lengths. Still, there is no affordable housing in Chatham’s collective “backyard”, or down the block or across town!
Additionally, Mr. Deuchler foreshadows a “long-term destruction” to Chatham Township. Candidates Felice and Hamilton speak in one voice, and also carry that fall-back mantra stressed by many conservative Republicans - a message which Mr. Hamilton did not win with when he ran in 2019, namely change is detrimental, a community will suffer because of change, and the old order needs to prevail or be restored.
Mr. Deuchler also asks us to “read the room”. Seemingly he tries to cast doubt about votes in the last two township elections, possibly because Democrats won seats. He describes a “shockingly high” number of mail-in votes saying they were from Chathamites geographically elsewhere. A closer look might reveal those elsewhere were our college sons and daughters, in addition to others eligible to vote by mail.
Indeed, “read the room”. Mr. Deuchler and others seem to dismiss that today’s college students are the next leaders. Rather than finding mail-in votes shockingly high perhaps a better view would be to see these voters as civic-minded, energized, and reform-oriented.
These youth, along with others, do not want Chatham (or for that matter the world) of yesteryear to be the Chatham of tomorrow so today we are standing up with a voice, and with a vote.
Thank you for a chance to express my opinion,
Formerly Chatham Township