John Garland listened intently as a mother told about fleeing the brutal gangs of El Salvador with her husband and two young children.
She and her family braved heat and rugged terrain and walked more than 1,600 miles to the U.S. border, always facing the possibility of being kidnapped by human traffickers.
Along the way, the mother’s husband died, and the mother was brutally abducted and raped in Mexico.
“I was crying this morning,” Garland said as he recounted the story. “Extreme violence, incomprehensible violence, is bringing them here.”
Garland offers help and comfort in the name of Jesus Christ to asylum seekers attempting to enter the U.S. immigration system.
He is pastor of San Antonio Mennonite Church, whose members operate a hospitality house for stranded asylum seekers in partnership with Interfaith Welcome Coalition of San Antonio.
During the five years he has been pastor, Garland has heard many horrific stories, agonized prayers and even the lullabies of parents who leave their homes to save their children.
In October, Garland is coming to Janesville’s St. John Lutheran Church to talk about how to respond to trauma and asylum seekers.
He rarely makes such visits.
“I am visiting the church of a beloved couple who volunteer with us,” he said. “I am not a traveling preacher.”
Garland referred to Jan and Dale Stebbins of Janesville, who volunteered at the San Antonio church two years ago.
Through Mennonite Central Committee, they spend a month each fall and each spring helping in various locations where they are needed.
Jan called the San Antonio church “a beautiful place full of beautiful people” who are active “being the hands and feet of Christ.”
Garland has witnessed a steady stream of asylum seekers, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, who are plagued by extreme poverty, gang brutality and extortion in one of the most violent parts of the world today.
The record level of migration earlier this year was driven not by the promise of better opportunities, but by an epidemic of brutal violence, he said.
In summer, Garland saw a historic 400 people per day. Now, the number has dropped to about 25.
“It changes with the seasons, storms and violence in Central America,” Garland explained. “Asylum-seekers describe what we would call a failed state or extreme corruption (in their home countries). There is nowhere to go in response to extreme violence.”
Occasionally, he also sees people from Haiti and the Congo.
“Our policymakers have represented these people as the problem,” Garland said. “But they are largely the hope of Central America. They are fleeing to save the lives of their children. They have sacrificed everything for their children. They are putting their children in the hands of God.”
He and others in the interfaith coalition provide resource backpacks with information about human trafficking, snacks, blankets and maps to asylum-seekers in bus stations and airports.
“The vast majority are passing through to various parts of the country, where they have family,” Garland said. “A certain percentage are stranded. Those are the ones we pick up and help.”
In addition to operating a hospitality house, Garland and others open their homes to people so they can hear their stories.
“We move beyond hospitality and toward healing,” he explained. “We have training in doing trauma healing, so they can heal from the horrific things they have endured.”
Most of the asylum-seekers are devout evangelical Christians, and their journeys are acts of faith, Garland said.
“They are coming to our church and bringing incredible testimonies,” he added. “These are stories of brothers and sisters who are persecuted. They are the ‘pilgrim church’ coming to us. We need to understand these stories so we can reach out as a church. Christians are all about the healing of brokenness.”
He called their journeys “survival miracles because they have gone through so much.”
Garland considers it a blessing to be with them.
“These people are fleeing the bad guys,” he said. “They are not the bad guys. These are the most loving parents who have been deeply traumatized, and they are in need of loving support and healing.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael L. Bacon
Martha F. Bond
Brian O. Comstock
Vicky L. Hubbell
David M. Jenson
James J. Llewellyn
Keith A. Lutz
Ronald G. McCoy
Stanley E. Miller
William “Bill” Miller Jr.
Diane E. Ramthum
Lea M. Robbins
Shawn B.D. Smith
The needle could soon start to move on a 92-unit answer to Janesville’s affordable housing crunch.
On Tuesday, Madison apartment developer Commonwealth Companies is hosting its first neighborhood meeting to lay out the latest details on River Flats, an affordable housing apartment complex it proposes to build north of Janesville police headquarters near downtown.
River Flats is one of three apartment developments being discussed or already underway. They come at a time when city housing and economic development officials are trying to respond to a housing crunch and shortage of available apartments.
If River Flats moves forward as proposed, it would bring nearly 100 multi-bedroom apartment units downtown. It is one of three apartment developments that together could bring about 300 new units to Janesville by mid-2021, according to city estimates.
Another of the three developments, The Glade off Racine Street near Interstate 90/39, plans to bring 89 “high-end,” market-rate apartment units to market by early 2021 and another 171 units by 2024. Diamond Ridge, a development of mid-priced apartments off Kennedy Road, promises 115 units and is poised to break ground this month.
The three projects are slated to be subsidized either through state or local tax incentives. They vary in size and the real estate market segments they would serve.
River Flats would offer a blend of apartments to working people who on average would be required to earn less than 60 percent of the median salary for Rock County residents.
City Economic Development Director Gale Price said the prospect of 300 units in the next two years—and as many as 470 or more within the next five years—represents a balanced response to a rental housing market that some local analysts estimate is at least 500 units short of demand.
“Five hundred units, that’s not some new number,” Price said. “It came from my mouth at a housing summit last year. That was from a number of factors, including talking to our local employers and getting a sense of how many new people are they bringing to town.”
Despite a consistent uptick in job growth in Janesville over the past few years, Janesville has issued an average of only about 100 construction permits per year for housing starts—new homes built primarily for owner occupancy. That’s compared to an average of about 230 housing starts a year before the Great Recession, Price said.
A statewide study by the Wisconsin Realtors Association released in September shows Janesville has the state’s fewest new housing units compared to demand for both owner-occupied and rental properties.
Meanwhile, a handful of apartment complexes have been renovated in the last few years. Some served to increase rents and in some cases have shifted apartment units from a rent-capped designation to market-rate.
Market-rate rents in Janesville can range from $700 to $1,500 a month, local rental market analysts said. That comes as local home prices have climbed steadily and relatively few apartment units have been added anywhere in Rock County.
Price said there should be a broad focus on apartment projects that serve multiple market segments—from high-end down to “affordable” rents—but he said the city is paying special attention to generating new, affordable housing, predominantly rental housing that’s income-based or rent-capped.
“There’s a lot of interest out there in Janesville as a multi-family site, and it’s because people are realizing there’s a tremendous amount of pent-up demand here. And so, we’re trying to navigate all these possible projects. And, fortunately, the three developments, and then a few other projects that are really in early discussions, are all different market segments,” Price said.
“But one of the concerns is that as we continue to bring in new, market-rate stuff, it comes at a higher price point, and that makes room for others to move up their price point. Hopefully, that does not price people out of the market. And that’s why we need more (new) units on the overall.”
Commonwealth Companies would build River Flats on mostly city-owned land it bought for $1. The project would be fueled by federal affordable housing tax credits awarded to the developer earlier this year through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
The city also has discussed tax incentives for the project, possibly similar to tax-increment financing deals the city has extended to other apartment developments including The Glade and Diamond Ridge.
Affordable housing is defined by a federal standard that requires tenants earn below a designated income level to be allowed to rent a unit.
Under the state tax credit program being used to subsidize River Flats, the apartments’ average tenant would need to earn less than 60 percent of Rock County’s median household income, which is about $53,400, according to 2017 U.S. census data.
About 60 percent of median income would be $32,000. Under the rules for the tax credits, a portion of residents could earn as much as 80 percent of the county median income, while a smaller portion of others could earn as little at 30 percent of the median.
Justin Spaulding, a manager and investor in rental properties in Janesville, over the last year renovated dozens of market-rate apartment units at the former Cotton Mills apartments, a former 1870s mill at 222 N. Franklin St. Spaulding bought and re-branded the building as Signature 23 apartments.
Spaulding decided to buy the former Cotton Mills after he noticed public-private revitalization and an influx in white-collar jobs starting to take root downtown.
The apartments are across the street from where River Flats would be built.
Spaulding said he believes River Flats will “look great” and add value to the downtown and its tax base. But Spaulding hasn’t warmed to the idea of the apartments being income-based affordable housing. Spaulding said he thinks the downtown already has a share of low-rent, low-income and affordable housing, including some apartments that are in the same general vicinity as the planned River Flats.
Spaulding said he believes affordable housing requirements could exclude some in the middle class who might want to rent an apartment downtown.
“I’m for the market-rate apartments that are, you know, $700 to $1,200 or $1,300 a month. That’s what we invest in,” Spaulding said.
“When you start to restrict who can live in an apartment downtown, you’re saying some people might make too much money and can’t live there. Yet, you’re trying to bring jobs and all this new investment downtown. That’s my issue with it.”
Daniel Kroetz, vice president of development at Commonwealth Companies, said his group was drawn to a project in Janesville’s downtown because he said there’s a “glaring” need for new rental housing in the “affordable” range.
A city income and job analysis shows single wage earners or workers with families of two to four who would fall within income limits for an “affordable” apartment complex such as River Flats would include young teachers, people who work as general laborers, corporate clerks, trucking operators, machinists, welders and graphic designers, among a broad range of entry-level or mid-level, middle-class professional occupations.
“One thing people have to realize is that affordable housing isn’t the housing projects in Chicago,” Price said. “You’ve got school teachers right out of college that are eligible for affordable housing. These are working people in industry and retail jobs that don’t have a master’s degree level of education, but they’re being productive members of society. You know, people have to realize that these are the working people in this community.”
Kroetz said he thinks estimates that Janesville has shortage of about 500 rental units “seem reasonable.”
“Certainly, these are parts of what went into the attraction (to Janesville). That’s the (WHEDA’s) goal, to allocate these resources in a way that tries to address markets where the need is the greatest. In order to secure the funding, we sort of follow those guidelines, and that leads to projects like River Flats.”
On Aug. 7, 1974, three top Republican leaders in Congress paid a solemn visit to President Richard Nixon at the White House, bearing the message that he faced near-certain impeachment due to eroding support in his own party on Capitol Hill. Nixon, who’d been entangled in the Watergate scandal for two years, announced his resignation the next day.
Could a similar drama unfold in later stages of the impeachment process that Democrats have now initiated against President Donald Trump? It’s doubtful. In Nixon’s time, there were conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. Compromise was not treated with scorn.
In today’s highly polarized Washington, bipartisan agreement is a rarity. And Trump has taken over the Republican Party, accruing personal rather than party loyalty and casting the GOP establishment to an ineffectual sideline.
“In the past in the U.S., party members would dissociate themselves from disgraced leaders in order to preserve the party and their own reputations,” said professor Nick Smith, who teaches ethics and political philosophy at the University of New Hampshire. “But now President Trump seems to have such a personal hold on the party—more like a cult leader than a U.S. president—that the exits are closed as the party transforms into his image.”
The delegation that visited Nixon was headed by Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the GOP’s unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1964. Goldwater, who had a long tenure as a party elder, was joined by Sen. Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, a Republican known for his strong support for civil rights, and Rep. John Rhodes of Arizona—the GOP leaders in their respective chambers.
They told Nixon there were no longer enough Republican votes to spare him from impeachment, given the release two days earlier of a 1972 tape recording contradicting Nixon’s tenacious denial of any role in cover-up of the Watergate break-in.
“He’d been proclaiming his innocence and suddenly they’ve got this evidence showing he’s been lying all this time,” said Thomas Schwartz, a history and political science professor at Vanderbilt University. “We don’t have the equivalent of that now.”
For now, though, Trump has a firewall in the form of Republicans who see more harm in opposing him than supporting him. Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, cited the increased political polarization of recent years as a reason why most Republican officials will stick with Trump “as long as their own status is not in danger.”
“For the president’s partisans in Congress, it’s ‘our guy on his worst day is better than your guy on his best day,’” Jillson said. “They stick with him to get the judicial appointments, the tax cuts.”
That would change if Trump’s troubles become so serious that congressional leaders think it will affect them and their party, Jillson said.
“Everyone among the Republicans in Congress has a beef with the president but they’re afraid of him,” said Jillson. “If he weakens, that fear will subside.”
The Watergate scandal overlapped with late stages of the Vietnam War, which had bedeviled both Nixon and his Democratic predecessor, Lyndon Johnson. In that era, Congress was more powerful in relation to the executive branch than it is now, with more leaders of national stature, several experts suggested.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, suggested that with the death last year of Arizona Sen. John McCain, there’s no Republican currently in Congress who could replicate Goldwater’s 1974 role.
“Who would go and be credible with Donald Trump, so that he would listen?” she asked. “Mitt Romney? Mitch McConnell? Lindsay Graham? Trump will turn on any of them the minute they say something uncongenial.”
A key then-and-now difference, Jamieson said, is that Goldwater represented the same conservative constituency as Nixon and conveyed the message that Nixon was losing its support.
Trump, she said, has a different relationship with his base than Nixon did with his: The base is loyal to Trump personally, rather than to a party establishment.
During Trump’s first two years in office, one of the few Republicans in Congress to tangle regularly with him was Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who decided not to seek reelection in 2018. In a column in The Washington Post on Oct. 1, Flake lambasted his fellow Republicans still in Congress for failure to break with Trump and oppose his reelection.
“At this point, the president’s conduct in office should not surprise us. But truly devastating has been our tolerance of that conduct,” Flake wrote. “From the ordeal of this presidency, perhaps the most horrible—and lasting—effect on our democracy will be that at some point we simply stopped being shocked.”
David Gibbs, a political science professor at the University of Arizona, recalled that Nixon had won reelection by a landslide in 1972, and yet many people who supported him, including Republicans in Congress, were willing to turn against him as evidence of a Watergate conspiracy accumulated.
In contrast, Gibbs now sees the United States as divided 50-50 along the “tribal lines” of Democrats versus Republicans, with Trump’s base remaining loyal no matter what sort of negative picture is painted by his critics.
“The two sides are roughly evenly matched, with neither one able to deliver a knockout blow, and thus there’s political paralysis,” Gibbs said. “The hyper-partisan tribalism makes bipartisan consensus for removing a president virtually impossible.”
Another big change since 1974 is the proliferation of media outlets and the advent of social media, which is used by Trump himself and partisans on all sides to promote their agendas and demonize opponents. Nixon had neither the equivalent of Fox News to support him nor the soapbox of Twitter to accuse his detractors of treason and witch-hunting.
The changing media landscape “has resulted in a political and news environment that moves at light speed compared with the Watergate era,” said David Cohen, a University of Akron political science professor. “The sheer information we are inundated with daily is like drinking out of a fire hose and it is impossible to swallow it all.”