The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and, with the “Better Way” Village going up on Beinecke Plaza, the season of maligning Yale’s reputation in the community is under way. The Better Way Village Charter — distributed to hundreds of unsuspecting parents and visiting prefrosh — puts forward in “Some Facts about Yale/Some Facts About New Haven” the tired notion that rich, greedy Yale is the cause of city suffering. Nothing could be further from the truth, or less helpful in building a stronger New Haven.
Over the past ten years, Yale and New Haven have built a responsible partnership that has worked to the advantage of all of the city’s residents. By putting money, jobs, and community investment where anti-Yale detractors have only offered inflammatory rhetoric and staged protests, Yale has taken a constructive part in New Haven’s rebirth.
Indeed, while Better Way Village flyers infer that Yale’s tax-exempt holdings are money withheld from New Haven, the city ledger tells a different story: cash payments made to New Haven voluntarily by Yale, or by the state on behalf of Yale, have increased nearly 140 percent since 1993 and now pay for almost 10 percent of New Haven’s $310 million annual budget. During the same period, when the City of New Haven, the state, and virtually all large companies in the region have announced layoffs, Yale has actually hired more city residents — including 600 union positions added since the last contract.
However, Yale’s commitment to its hometown hasn’t stopped at the edge of campus or at City Hall. In the last 10 years, Yale’s $12 million cash investment in a program providing workers with $25,000 grants to buy homes in New Haven has increased residential property sales by 50%. Today, one in 10 homes in the city are bought through this program, giving local residents a valuable asset and increasing neighborhood stability.
This is investment that makes real differences in the lives of hundreds of our neighbors. The pride and involvement of a new home-owning family will continue long after Better Way Village is packed into recycling bins. Those who were sleeping on Beinecke Plaza surely have good intentions toward their hometown. However, they are mistaken in thinking that the way to a stronger New Haven is to criticize Yale for having “thwarted” efforts to build a stronger community. The facts just show otherwise.
Of course, figures don’t tell everything, and the Better Way Village literature understandably tries to get around the facts of Yale and New Haven to the “struggle” of Yale workers. Certainly, Yale labor relations aren’t perfect, and locals 34 and 35 have many worthwhile points in the ongoing contract negotiations. However, continuing to champion the “civil disobedience” of September and the recent strike as positive ways to build community ironically ignores the sentiment of much of that community.
In February, twenty ministers in the New Haven Clergy Association, the largest association of African-American congregations in the city, recognized that the cause of the Yale unions is not necessarily the cause of city residents. In an open letter, the pastors urged the unions to disassociate worker’s contracts from the Graduate Employees and Students Organization cause — something those in the Better Way Village should heed. In addition, they recognized that the “confrontation of a strike — will take money out of the pockets of New Haven residents.” They were right — battling with Yale is not constructive for the city and hurts those who are most vulnerable.
Hopefully, discussion about the Better Way Village can, in a sense, result in a better way forward for Yale and New Haven. A better way would involve recognizing how Yale and New Haven have and can work together to help all residents, leaving behind the divisive language and protests of the past. We should be proud of our University and our city. By keeping a positive tone, Yale students can truly build an ever better community.
Dan Kruger is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.