Tuesday, Jul 17, 2018
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Keith Burris

What’s the plan?



It is time for the two candidates for mayor to start putting some meat on the bones of their economic platforms.

Let’s take three subjects: jobs, housing, and the social safety net.

It’s not enough, if you want to lead the city, to identify a problem and a basic approach to that problem. The voters deserve a plan of attack from Mayor Mike Bell and Councilman Mike Collins.

The Brookings Institution said last week that Toledo is one of the slowest recovering cities from the recession. We rank 32nd. What can the next mayor do about that?

He had better do something.

Mayor Bell’s strategy on jobs is to attract new investment to the city, whether it be from the suburbs or China. He’s had some success, but not much. It is his responsibility, as the incumbent, to “show us the money.” Produce some results, or at a least a date by which we may expect results.

Incumbents take the heat or the glory for how things are. Sometimes that means taking credit for things they had little to do with. Sometimes it means that they must counter the perception of slow growth and little progress. Surely the mayor’s friends in China have told him something he can share with the voters. When will we see some jobs?

The challenger has a different obligation. He has to put something new on the table. Mr. Collins says, in every debate, that we need jobs and that Toledo is in a “jobs war.” But he has not put a jobs plan on the table. If he would not hit the road to sell Toledo (Mr. Bell’s jobs plan), what would he do instead?

A few days ago I met a young man, around age 30, born and bred in Toledo. He has an engineering degree and built an engine for his Mustang in his garage. He’s a “skilled worker.” He’s also laid off and working odd jobs to get by. What’s the plan for him?

Councilman Joe McNamara has advocated a microbusiness loan/​mentoring program in which large institutions, like hospitals and universities, give small businesses, like coffee shops and dry cleaners, start-up loans. It’s a good idea. It has worked in Cleveland. It seems perfect for Toledo. Why not try it?

The trouble with the Bell approach is that foreign investment dollars often require a large public investment (in tax breaks) and produce a disappointingly small number of manufacturing jobs.

But if there is no alternative to the Bell approach, the mayor wins on jobs.

The same with housing. The current administration has two approaches to our declining housing stock. One is demolition and the other is benign neglect. Why can’t the city go back to rehabbing and even building new, decent single-family housing? Even on a pilot basis? For one thing, it would help stabilize neighborhoods. Where is the city’s commitment? And where is Mr. Collins’ fresh approach?

Finally, housing touches on a key problem of poverty in our city — homelessness and homeless shelters.

The Bell administration is committed to “rapid rehousing” and to reducing funding for homeless shelters to achieve this end. Treating these two goals as mutually exclusive is bad logic and bad public policy. But the reality is that this mayor, and his neighborhoods director, get a D for housing and shelter policy.

The administration is doing little rebuilding or restoration of homes, and its shelter policy was officially given a failing grade by the federal government a few days ago. That’s because it is a failing policy. The policy is to defund shelters and then ask them to take in more people, as also happened just last week. The policy is to sabotage the shelters and then say it is their fault that they lack resources (exactly what the neighborhoods director has said). This is either profound stupidity or a lack of intellectual honesty.

The mayor called the failure of his shelter policy a “hiccup.” Children living in cars as the cold weather descends is not a hiccup. It’s a disgrace.

Mr. Collins has been heroic in his defense of the shelters and scathing in his critique of the administration. But now he needs to go beyond that and put an alternative plan for housing and homelessness on the table. Many voters wonder if Mr. Collins is a true alternative to Mr. Bell. Addressing this issue can answer that question.

Jobs. Housing. Poverty. The mayor needs to show progress. Mr. Collins needs to show alternatives. We need to see the beef.

Last week, I had lunch at St. Paul’s shelter. I heard about a family that has been waiting six weeks for the city and the homelessness board to place them. That’s unacceptable. One fifth of our neighbors are officially, statistically poor in this city. Several hundred Toledo children have no homes. Current policy is basically to shrug. The city, and its would-be mayors, are better than this.

Keith Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.

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