Richfolk, Poorfolk, and the Housing In Between

Today’s St. Albert Gazette featured a letter that would be hilarious were it not for the fact that, by all accounts, its authors are dead serious.

A proposed new development in St. Albert would see Habitat for Humanity build 15 units in a 58 unit complex. This has, predictably, led to complaints from residents. But today’s letter took things to a whole new level.

It would be easy to dismiss this as the thoughts of only two people. But the letter points to several stereotypes that exist about suburban vs. inner-city environments, in particular the desirability of each area. This matters to all of us, particularly those of us interested in seeing more diverse (even mixed-income) neighbourhoods, more families living in our city centres, and those interested in maintaining public schools in the city centre and mature neighbourhoods as well.

So with that in mind, I want to address some of the misconceptions in the letter.

Habitat for Humanity bucket

“What we want is for St. Albert to remain as it is with very few low-income households, a place for families that work hard to live here”

The emphasis in the header is mine.

I have no doubt that the authors of this letter work hard and want what’s best for their family. Almost everyone does. What’s dangerous is the assumption that low-income families don’t work hard. To repeat, almost everyone works hard. It wasn’t that long ago that I was working low-end jobs occupied by many of our lowest-income neighbours. In University, I worked for a time in retail and in a call centre. I wouldn’t want to work those jobs again, and a big reason is that they are really hard work, and don’t offer the same sort of satisfaction or intellectual stimulation you find in other jobs. Nonetheless, it’s honest, decent work. I’d suggest that people who truly believe low-income earners don’t work hard should try doing their jobs for a little while; they’ll probably come away with a new found respect for what they do.

“Our cost of living will increase as we will have to pay for low-income subsidies due to higher school fees or other taxes.”

I’m not sure this is substantiated anywhere. I’d also be interested to see if they – or anyone who agrees with this sentiment – acknowledge the ways in which taxpayers have helped them. For example, almost all of us have benefited from a subsidized education system – particularly if we went to post-secondary. Specific to the authors, they note that they are business owners. I assume then that as business owners, they benefit from tax concessions not available to the regular working person. Why is one tax subsidy okay and not another? This is a topic for another post, but I’d be interested to see someone defend the header, without using the “business creates job” truism.

We all benefit from tax breaks/subsidies of others at one time or in one form. In my opinion, we all then have a commensurate responsibility to give back when we can.

“Current residents will have to deal with the likeliness of children influenced by crime in our schools and adults in our community.”

Having grown up in south(west) Edmonton, and gone to schools populated primarily with middle class and upper-middle class kids (Greenfield Elementary, Avalon Junior High, Strathcona Composite HIgh), I feel like I have the background to comment on this. What the Perrys are really getting at is that they see the low-income kids being a bad influence on their own.

In my experience, and that of those I’ve conferred with, there is no correlation between family income level and good behaviour. Many of the kids in my high school who smoked, drank excessively, and did or sold drugs were from the better off families. In fact, Scona was a hotspot for dealing drugs precisely because we didn’t have a community police officer back in the late 1990s. I also knew of at least two well-off kids who ended up in rehab or addictions counseling. And it sure as hell wasn’t because of kids from the projects who were a bad influence on them.

The point, to reiterate, is that bad (and good) apples come from all sorts of backgrounds. The children of these 15 families aren’t going to corrupt the good people of St. Albert.


“there is no level of pre-screening that will prevent some form of crime from infiltrating the proposed development. It will happen, guaranteed.”

Really? I would love to see statistics that back this up. For what it’s worth, the screening process for Habitat for Humanity looks fairly vigorous. It would be hard to argue that people who meet all of the criteria aren’t good citizens.

“Like it or not, the children of St. Albert are high-standard children and have no place for low-income classmates.”…”our teen had a hard time fitting in because of money and it was hard on him”

Besides making all St. Albert teens sound like the Plastics, this is also probably false. Kids will exclude and label other kids for all sorts of reasons. I doubt that living in a nice house and having nice things automatically buys anyone acceptance, unless said person lets other take advantage of their family’s wealth. In which case, I have to ask, why do you want those kids as friends?

“I am all for low-income housing in Edmonton. I believe more independent living housing is required in St. Albert and would be better suited than this proposal.”

I hate to break the news, but there are already homeless people in St. Albert. Look, here’s a story about one.

St. Albert hasn’t gone to hell in a hand basket while some of its residents don’t have a place to call home. Also, as the story points out, there are already 4 Habitat for Humanity homes in St. Albert. Yet, life has gone on for the hard-working residents of the city. Maybe mixing in a bit of non-market housing won’t be the apocalypse. It might even help some people appreciate everything they have.

Mixed-income communities work well across the world. Yet, the stereotypes about “safe” suburbs and “dangerous” inner-city and low income neighbourhoods persist. The sooner we get beyond this, the better off we will all be.

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18 Responses

  1. People like that actually do exist but I’d still like to know if the paper authenticated the letter.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I tried to blog a response to the letter, but my brain exploded and I wasn’t able to write with the leftover bits.

  3. Way to speak up about this. That surely is among the most despicable letters to the editor that I have ever read. It is remarkable how ignorant that letter is. I am heartened to see the many condemnations of the letter on the St. Albert Gazette’s website. I’m gratified that few St. Albert residents share their odious views.

  4. Sheesh… My brain did not explode (just my mouth with a few choice expletives, in a privacy of my home) after reading the Perry drivel but I’m glad I’m not associated with these people. After all, what fun is it to sit around counting my possesions all day and wondering what kind of low income “lowlifes” would like to come and steal it all… I’d rather count my many blessings, one of which is my rich – in values and ethics – family and circle of friends, something you Perrys will most likely never “possess”. Just remember – what goes around, comes around. Hopefully, your brain cramp will soon blow over and you will not experience the aftermath of your submoronic letter, such as a vast loss of profits from the clients that would rather leave your services than be in any way connected to you.

  5. You just can’t spin this letter any other way than espousing a viewpoint that discriminates against low-income families. You just can’t. On the bright side though, at least it’s honest and I’d rather know who the bigots are so they can be called on, rather than those who hide their prejudices behind social niceties and making it harder to deal with them.

  6. I would agree that the “well off” kids are as much, if not more, of a risk than the “poor” kids. The more money around, the more dealers around in my view.

  7. Chris Perry moved his children to St. Albert so they could have, in his words, “a better upbringing”?

    Does one’s upbringing improve with the number of toys one has? The cost of their car? The amount in their bank account? Everything in his letter suggests that this is the case.

    If Chris and Karleena want their children to have a better upbringing, perhaps they should ask some of the “lower income” people for a few tips on how enjoy the things that money cannot buy such as love, decency, kindness, consideration and repect for others.

    Their arrogance and lack of decency is appalling. I feel sorry for their children to have to endure their parent’s narrow-minded attitudes. I can only hope that their children’s hearts are more open than their parent’s.

    Chris and Karleena — congratulations! You have all the money but no soul.

  8. As a longtime resident of St. Albert I can assure you that the Perry’s are not representative of our community. They just don’t fit in here period. However I am wondering if they will find a community anywhere that they will fit in? This behavior should not be tolerated in any community. We have a very average family who like alot of families – struggle to stay above ground. I am glad I have no association with the Perry family as most certainly we would fall within their definition of unworthy. It is my feeling alot of others feel the same. They are disgraceful and I am truly embarrassed. Others with likely far more money than the Perry’s have have never tarnished openly this city or it’s residents with such hatred and day to day show compassion and acceptance of everyone. I sincerely pity the Perry’s for their arrogence and their ignorance.

  9. I am a single mother on disability, so my son and I were very poor while he was growing up. He’s moved away from home now, but I’m still pretty poor. My son never got into any kind of trouble, but the neighbour kids, who lived in much nicer homes and had nicer clothes, etc. were the ones who were vandalizing homes and yards, including mine, doing drugs, etc, etc. I taught my child to obey the laws, and to be polite and respectful of all people and their possessions. I doubt that the children of the people who wrote this letter are being taught the same things at all. I feel sorry for them.

  10. The letter is authenic, as sad as that may be. It seems that the authors own a business in town and needless to say once the business name was leaked, many residents of St. Albert and Edmonton have opted to boycott it. The authors have since attempted to back pedal and apologize for their words being “misunderstood”, but I figure the only reason for the apology was to ensure that their business doesn’t suffer because of their elitist ignorance.

  11. There are some new comments by Chris Perry out today, trying to make what he said not sound so discrminating.

    http://www.edmontonjournal.com/Sorry+rant+against+income+housing/2763590/story.html

    Being semi from St. Albert myself, the comments were quite ridiculous, but I think its what a lot of people think who live there and would never say. (as why would you pay higher property taxes etc to live somewhere?) Good way to get something out in the open though at least. People need to address these issues.

  12. How many people whose income does not suit Mr. Perry come from families who have lived in this community for generations? Should they all leave so he can move his family from Edmonton without fear of meeting the “unruly”. I’ve lived here longer than he’s been alive, and thanks to hard work, I make over the average income. I am appalled that this relative newcomer has the audacity to think he has some right to define the community that others have worked for generations to build.

    My son had no issues parking the beater he bought with his own hard earned money next to the brand new SUV his buddy got for his birthday so Mr. Perry can rest easy – his child’s wealth isn’t hurting anyone. Mr. Perry would do well to teach his children that its a persons deeds, not their dough, that make them worthy citizens.

  13. […] a couple of blogs the Edmonton Journal links to: Alex Abboud and David Climenhaga’s Alberta Diary No Comments by etownkris  /  April 5, 2010 […]

  14. As someone who has known or worked with a number of people from St. Albert, I can say I have seen this attitude before. St. Albert seems to provoke this kind of bigotry even in people who do not make a lot of money. For example, a woman I used to work with married a man from St. Albert and they were raising their children there. Neither she nor her husband had any education beyond high school and, consequently, neither made much money. However, after a parent’s generous gift, they had purchased an expensive home in an exclusive neighbourhood and so believed they were superior to others. And they taught this lesson to their young children at every opportunity. My husband and I are professionals and are quite comfortable and we considered moving to St. Albert because of it’s beautiful and green landscapes. In the end, we decided we simply wouldn’t fit in in a community with so much classism – we were raised by hard-working labourers who taught us to respect and value others based on the quality of the person – not the size of their bank accounts. This letter is a disgrace but, in my opinion, may be the opinion of many discreet St. Albert residents.

  15. Great comments everyone. As I’ve said before, it’s important that we all address these misconceptions, and work towards a greater understanding.

    For me, this is less about the Perrys than it is about the fact that less extreme, more nuanced versions of these stereotypes exist in the minds of many. Anything we can do to correct them is a step forward.

    Thanks again; please keep commenting and reading.

  16. While we appreciate the fact that Chris & Karleena Perry took the time to identify only a few of our concerns about the project on Arlington Drive – like density and parking issues, what came after that was strictly their own viewpoint.

    When it comes to Habitat for Humanity, there is no doubt about their good works and their excellent reputation. As a result, there is no shortage of volunteers, donations and goodwill to go around.

    However, when HfH strays from its roots and opts to downgrade versus rejuvenate and build “down” versus build “like”, the media falls strangely silent and the people in the neighbourhood are treated like pariahs for having the gall to fight back.

    Before people start commenting about what’s happening on the Arlington site in St. Albert, they need to do some homework, before their fingers hit the keys.

    Oh, and if you can’t find any information concerning Arlington Drive, perhaps you should ask your local reporter….

  17. This was an ill conceived, prejudiced letter. The writer admits that he came off poorly and apologized. Beyond that, his opinions are still his opinions, which, whether anyone likes it or not, he’s entitled to. As someone from St. Albert, I disagree with his comments.

    What I find most striking about the whole conversation on this topic is the amount of anti-St. Albert prejudice it’s brought out. Whereas this letter is the opinion of one individual and there has been nothing to suggest that others in St. Albert agree, the message boards have been full of comments to the effect that everyone else from St. Albert quietly agrees with this letter. The irony of attacking prejudice with more prejudice is evidently being over-looked.

  18. Thank you for this.

    St. Albert folk are too good for Edmonton and its “low-class folk,” but they sure as heck aren’t too good to utilize the services EDMONTON’s “low-class” taxpayers fund daily including our roads and parks.

    Hopefully you were able to enlighten these poor souls with insight from the “real” world!

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