By Billy Procida
Got your attention? Yes, it’s true that America’s gangs hold the key to solving the budget deficit and curing many of our country’s other problems.
But let’s focus on the deficit. It’s no secret that other than military spending and over-supporting foreign countries, the biggest drain on our country is all that comes with the despair and poverty in the inner cities. Downtrodden neighborhoods cost more to police and maintain than thriving neighborhoods, and they produce no tax revenue. The expense is staggering.
Back in the 1980s, I was privileged to have been selected by then-Mayor Ed Koch to redevelop the Fort Apache section of the South Bronx — then one of, if not the single most dangerous places in the country. Thus, it was one of the most expensive for the city to maintain, produced no tax revenues and was home to plenty of human despair.
We built over 2,000 homes, as well as several retail centers. As a result, the neighborhood became safe, cost less to maintain and started to produce revenues from property and sales taxes
And, last but definitely not least, the kids — who grew up in the new South Bronx with clean streets, seeing people going to work and maintaining their homes — have become doctors, lawyers and teachers. For many, it changed the direction of their lives and they now produce tax revenues, as opposed to being jobless and draining the government purses.
I think most folks would agree with the basic premise that, if you turn dangerous blighted neighborhoods into thriving ones, it’s a net positive economically and sociologically.
So where do the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings and other gangs fit in?
Since the 1970s when our inner cities became blighted, the government has proven that they can’t solve the problem. New York’s outer-borough rebirth was a result of communities coming together in a massive way, initially with some financial support from the government. But there is so much more to do that the government simply does not have the money or human resources to accomplish. So who does? All of the aforementioned gangs, of course.
It’s a pretty simple premise. Convince gang leadership that there is more money to be made redeveloping real estate than any other gang activity, and you get a hug from people for doing it, versus going to jail. Hmmmm… Get rich and hugged? Respected and no jail? It’s an easy sell. And it’s true.
The fact is that gangs have the boots on the ground and the money to renovate these neighborhoods and keep them safe, the government doesn’t.
And if we convince them to do it, these neighborhoods will produce increased property taxes and cost less to maintain, not to mention the income taxes and kids who will hopefully go to college and become productive tax payers themselves.
Data shows that kids join gangs to be part of a family, not simply to do illegal activities. So all we need to do is redirect that energy. These are smart business men who are very organized and everywhere we need them. If you convince the guys at the top they can press a button and turn the worst hood into the safest overnight.
Training them to be real estate developers, contractors, and real estate agents is the easy part. How to let them use their money to revitalize their neighborhoods might be a little trickier, but a simple tax amnesty program might be worth a try.
They’re not paying their taxes now, so if we let them use their money to renovate a bad neighborhood and pay property and income taxes after, it’s a no brainier. A true win on so many levels .Especially if they reduce crime and change the entire purpose of the gang culture.
Can you imagine gang members ten years from now being the most respected members of their communities, versus the most feared? It is possible.
Today’s gangs need to learn from gangsters of the past: the original mafia. 1) They never called themselves gangs, and instead they were families; 2) They made sure their neighborhoods were safe and clean; 3) They invested in real estate, which is why there are no third generation gangsters. By that time, they’re all business men with Ivy League degrees. If you don’t believe that crime families can produce productive citizens, just look at the Kennedys.
Leadership on the government’s part would be required, but can be done at no cost to the tax payer. Our government leaders need to stop throwing money at problems and start throwing their hearts and souls at the problem.
The good thing is there are probably only a few dozen who are at the highest level of gang leadership, known as the ruling committees. If they buy in, they can press a button and make it happen for everyone.
If I were President Obama or Governor Christie, I would reach out to these leaders personally. The gang problem and urban blight is the biggest our country faces.
And if our leaders took this proposal seriously, I would work for free, forever, to try to make it happen. Why 1) it’s doable 2) one day when I’m (hopefully) a grandfather and I don’t want my grandkids to say “grandpa the country’s bankrupt …. Why didn’t you do something to prevent it!” Words I hope to never have to hear! But the way this country is going I probably will.
Billy Procida is the president of Procida Funding LLC.