Phillip Morris Blames the Poor for Poverty

Photo by Karen St. John Vincent

Finally, Phillip Morris of the Cleveland Plain Dealer stopped picking on low income renters and moved on to protecting the vote in Ohio.  I was afraid he was going to attack elderly Americans for slowing down traffic while they cross the street in their walkers or beating up on kids who force increases in property taxes to pay for "special needs" education.   The last two weeks he has antagonized Ms. Mixon and her struggles with the Cleveland Housing Network.  It became a venue for all the people that hate poor people to comment ANONYMOUSLY on the site.  I will never understand why they allow hate speech with no accountably online, but they will not print anonymous letters in the paper.  How many of these horrible comments would disappear if they were disinfected by the light of day.  What would your boss say or your partner say if they knew you were saying racist or hurling insults at the disabled or seniors in public? 

Two weeks ago, Morris used the power of the pen to tip the balance of power to the side of management with his comment, "the Cleveland Housing Network, one of the more respected, non-profit agencies in town...."  I like the folks at CHN, and they do a great job with expanding affordable housing in Cuyahoga County, but we all have to deal with difficult clients.  This is a simple landlord tenant issue that the Plain Dealer has no business injecting themselves.   Ms. Mixon no doubt has bed bugs and is not satisfied with her apartment.  She wants someone to take her seriously and listen to her complaints. 

Morris went over the top this last week with his bizarre titled commentary, "HUD continues to help the poor build their own subsidized prisons."  He claimed that "Rachel Mixon could be a good example of why the extremely poor often stay extremely poor."  Ms. Mixon made a mistake talking to Morris who has a history of hostility to poor people.  Ms. Mixon followed the law and the system set up for her.  She put her rent in escrow because of the problems she was having with her landlord.  She asked the court, as a neutral arbiter of the law, to view her complaint and weigh it against the landlords evidence.  Mixon believes that her side was not heard by the court and the facts she submitted she feels were not evaluated by the court. 

I do not understand the scrutiny on the rent Ms. Mixon pays by the columnist.  I do not know Ms. Mixon, but she has a dispute with her landlord as thousands of other tenants have in Cuyahoga County. This is the system we have constructed to provide affordable housing in the United States.  Ms. Mixon does not set the fair market rents in the community, and was never asked what she thought was a fair rent for her apartment.  She pays what she can afford (one third of her income).  If she is receiving a disability check then she pays one third of her monthly check.  If she is receiving social security then she pays one third of that.  If people believe that Ms. Mixon should pay more for rent, they should advocate for more funding going to disability or social security because no where in the United States will a person be able to afford rent if they are on disability.  They should advocate for an increase in the minimum wage so working people can afford the fair market rent in a community and will not need a government subsidy to be able to live in an apartment. 

I do not understand "the trap of dependency and expectation" phrase Morris uses.  Ms. Mixon was locked in a simple landlord tenant dispute.  The cost of health care and food and other accommodations in a shelter are far more than the $918 per month the federal government is paying to keep Ms. Mixon in housing.  It is highly offensive that after talking to Ms. Mixon, Morris self righteously declared her trapped in a cycle of dependency.  Morris does not know Mixon's background or her story of why she is in need of subsidized housing.  Morris has never offered us his own personal story of dependency.  Does he take the mortgage interest deduction to be able to afford his own housing?  Does he pay his own property taxes or does he protest the amount and ask for a reduction or abatement?  Has he ever needed help from the government?  Has he protested his employer accepting tax abatements to expand their operations in order to pay his salary?  Is he planning to take social security past the point of what he paid into the system or is he going to reject this cycle of dependency? 

This is a cautionary tale for all low income residents of Cleveland:  beware who you talk to.   Many will sit down with you with words of sympathy and friendship only to blast you in the media.  Low income individuals are easy targets because there is no consequence for attacking a tenant publicly.  Low income individuals do not have a lobby and cannot pull their advertising.  They do not have their own media outlets to fight back.  It is easy to isolate and condemn a person living on the margins like the Reagan era straw man of the "welfare queens."  It is easy to label groups of people "takers" and there are plenty of John Stossell type junk research to scream about in order to support attacks on low income citizens.  Next up for Morris an interview with possible terror babies in Rainbow Babies and Children hospital?

Brian Davis

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