Friday, May 6, 2016

Retrofitting Suburbia Hasidic (Litvish) Style

Interesting take and blog post the author "Johnny" grew up in Toms River when it was dominated by families like his whose great grandparents filled the tenement slums and sweatshops of New York a century ago. We’re Sicilians, Greeks, Irish, Poles, and secular Jews – what some call the “white ethnics” as opposed to the once-dominant Protestant culture of the Dutch, German, and English. Toms River exists in its current form wholly as a result of white flight after the race riots in the 1960’s. Lakewood was always the distressed “urban” town that had the only real concentration of poor black people in the county. He argues The once obscure downtrodden town of Lakewood is in the process of becoming one of the largest cities in New Jersey as a result of high birth rates and an influx of Hasidic residents from older Jewish communities in places like Brooklyn.

Article below:

  An old college room mate from back East sent me a news link he knew I would appreciate. The article notes the migration of the Hasidim (Orthodox Jews) from the town of Lakewood, New Jersey to an upscale neighborhood in the adjacent town of Toms River. This has stirred up resistance among the existing population who don’t appreciate their new Hasidic neighbors.

The overwhelming purpose of a 5,000+ square foot home on a large lot is to display wealth and status. In spite of their large size most of these homes are only occupied by three or four people. These homes announce that the owners have achieved something special in life and can afford an impressive lifestyle. Everything about these properties reflects the concept of leisure and exclusivity. It’s all a conspicuous display of resources that are intentionally not being turned to productive activity.

The Hasidim live apart from modern society, reject corrupting outside influences, and value family and community above materialism. They adhere to a strict segregation of the sexes, marry young, and have unusually large numbers of children which attend private religious schools. Unlike secular Jews they rarely attend university or seek employment outside their immediate community. Think of them as a cross between the Amish and Mormons.

So here’s the problem. The Lakewood/Toms River area has seen exponential population growth in recent years, almost all of it Hasidic. And they inhabit their homes in a way that disrupts suburban sensibilities. Observant Jews are forbidden to operate machinery or conduct business on the Sabbath. Consequently they live in tight knit communities within walking distance of Temples, Yeshivas (religious schools), and extended family.

In an urban environment everyone walks everywhere and it’s perfectly normal for buildings to house more than one family and for residential and non residential activities to coexist in the same structure. The Hasidim have adapted to the suburban landscape by taking large single family homes and occupying them as if they were small city apartment buildings with ground floor shops.

Why not conduct religious services in the grand living room ? Why not convert the three car garage to extra bedrooms for the kids? Why not operate a home business in the bonus room? Why not run a day care center in the basement and back yard? Why not rent out rooms? Why not manage a Kosher catering service from the giant kitchen?

All this infuriates the neighbors who point out that all of these activities are absolutely illegal. How dare people use their homes for productive activities? That’s low class. It’s unhealthy. It’s dangerous. People left big cities to escape such things. It will drive down property values…

The other thing that bothers non Orthodox neighbors is that the Hasidim are so numerous and geographically concentrated that they quickly come to dominate the electorate and vote themselves into positions of political authority. The public schools are defunded while municipal resources are channeled to other services valued by the Orthodox community. The non-Orthodox population cries foul and insists that the rules are being perverted and exploited by an insular clique with no regard for outsiders. But it’s the same basic arrangement the white majority has always used with ethnic minorities, except now middle class whites are on the receiving end and they don’t like it one bit. In the end it’s easier to move away than fight the Hasidic machine.

The once obscure downtrodden town of Lakewood is in the process of becoming one of the largest cities in New Jersey as a result of high birth rates and an influx of Hasidic residents from older Jewish communities in places like Brooklyn.  The overflow is transforming surrounding towns as well. Urban planners often talk of retrofitting the suburbs by turning dead shopping malls into lifestyle centers, but here’s a model of how the existing suburban fabric is changing by being inhabited by an entirely different subculture.



    1. Johnny here.

      High taxes in suburbia are a result of the development pattern, not demographics - although changing populations are almost always assumed to be the problem. All aging suburbs are experiencing this revenue shortfall and higher taxes at the same time - everywhere across the country. Honestly, it doesn't help to explain this to anyone since people don't want to hear it. People tend to just blame the __________ and move to a new lower tax location instead. So enjoy North Carolina and Arizona... until they too age and taxes spike.

      Here's the deal. The cost of maintaining all the endless miles of attenuated roads, pipes, and dispersed municipal services exceeds the tax revenue coming in from the sprinkling of low density tract homes and strip malls. Here's a short video of an engineer explaining the situation.

      There are two solutions. The first is to convert to individual private services: each home owner or subdivision can contract out to private schools, private trash collection, private security, private wells, private septic systems, private everything... Taxes can be dramatically lower as a result and people will only pay for the services they really value. This method is in keeping with a conservative ideology where less government, lower taxes, and more hyper local control is desired. Not everyone can afford all this private stuff so many people will live with gravel roads. So be it.

      The second option is to put significantly more high value high productivity private property on the existing public infrastructure. This will provide the necessary aggregate tax revenue to cover municipal costs while keeping individual taxes low. This is most easily achieved through individual private infill development. Granny cottages can be built in suburban back yards. One story strip malls can add a floor or two of apartments or offices upstairs. Parking lots can be converted to more buildings.

      Neither of these options appeal to most suburbanites. But some version of these two situations is already beginning to unfold in an ad hoc manner. It's just numbers.

    2. Johnny, I agree with part of your message, but you are off on a number of issues. The rising taxes in Lakewood are due to a flaw in the States funding formula.

      Lakewood has a student population of over 26,000. Of those 20,000 are private school students. The state grants aid based on the public school population, yet demands that the district pay for the special ed and busing needs of all students.

      It is not the mandate that is the problem. Parents sending their children to provate school are saving the State hundreds of millions, it is the lack of state funding that is the problem. special Ed costs alone, in Lakewood, are well over $20 million, a reasonable number for a student population of 26,000, yet the state only funds it based on the 6,000 public school students.

      Your other assertion, that the Orthodox turn mansions into their mini apartment building with ground floor shops, is just way off base. While there are some people in Lakewood who treat their homes this way (most do not), The people moving into the Thoms River mansions, in general, do not.

    3. Much of the complaints from non orthodox residents are of the, "This isn't a legal use of a single family home" variety. My point isn't that these homes are literally becoming apartment buildings with shops. It's that they are being used in ways that don't conform to the usual suburban McMansion expectations.

      As for school funding... I remember when Governor Jim Florio attempted to reform state aid to public schools. That went over like a lead balloon. "Florio Free in '93" People in Toms River called him a communist. "I worked hard to buy my suburban home. My taxes are already too high. Florio isn't taking my tax money and giving it to (colorful expletive) in the ghetto." You can't blame Trenton for not trying to fix a problem if the immediate vehement reaction from the public is to vote the bums out of office.

  2. Because of a flawed school funding formula that wont get changed too fast in Trenton