To the editor:
The contentious conversation in the last few weeks about the proposed trailer park in Water Valley has ignored the pressing problem of affordable housing; instead, writers have betrayed a disturbing tendency to vilify the kinds of people who live in trailer parks. The United States has a long sorry history of pathologizing the poor, describing them as an inferior species who deserve their plight.
Recent columnists have participated in this tradition, describing trailer park residents as prostitutes, meth addicts, and dangerous outsiders who are a drain on our resources. The melodramatic signs around town about the “trailer park invasion” draw on this rhetoric, framing residents as a barbarian horde from which we need to save our town. I oppose the proposed trailer park because I think its developers seek to exploit our residents, but because of the divisive, xenophobic rhetoric, I will not have one of those signs in my yard.
Mickey Howley’s recent implication that trailer park residents are sex offenders brings this rhetoric to a new low. I have been friends with Mickey for a long time, and I have been shocked at his repeated tendency to talk about residents of trailer parks as criminal. Hiding behind articles from the Guardian does not make this any less reprehensible.
All of this obscures the deeper issue: Water Valley needs more affordable housing. All the public housing projects have long waiting lists; residents keep saying, in letters to the editor and comments on Facebook, that finding decent affordable housing is a problem in Water Valley. And it has become more of a problem since people like Mickey and I have moved here; development on Main Street has made rent prices and housing prices go up. Oxford realtors are sniffing around our town. This housing proposal may be blocked, but there will be more to come.
We aren’t like Oxford yet, but we will be if we don’t come up with solutions now.
That may involve stricter land use requirements, and incentives for developers to include affordable housing. It may include direct investment by government. It will also require non-profits like the Mississippi Main Street Association, and the will of all our citizens. We must admit there is a problem, commit to finding solutions, and stop describing “those people” as outsiders who don’t deserve our concern. Affordable housing is a problem; let’s stop the fearmongering and start finding the solution together.