Facing financial difficulties as new technology takes customers away, the United States Postal Service reviewed 3,300 branches to find those that could be deemed disposable. In low-income communities, just how disposable are the final 162?
By Miriam Axel-Lute Posted on September 2, 2010
The line wound around the room at lunchtime last December at the storefront post office located in the Delaware Avenue neighborhood of Albany, New York. An area resident speaking only limited English piled one brown-paper-wrapped package after another onto the scale at the front counter and then made choices about at which speed to send each one. The woman behind him—who needed a money order to pay her bills—fidgeted. The line was robust, but a woman standing several people back in line commented with a wry smile “this post office doesn’t get enough business to stay open.”
And indeed, on the wall behind her head was a large poster informing customers that their branch was on a list for possible cost-cutting consolidation, and that they should consider using the Delmar post office—a four-mile, one-way ride on a bus line whose service drops to less than once an hour outside of rush hour—or the downtown Albany Hudson Avenue post office, one that is notoriously crowded and understaffed and is a three-mile walk to the bottom of an incredibly steep hill. One particularly out-of-touch mailing to everyone in the neighborhood suggested that they buy their stamps at a gas station on a highway commercial strip at the far end of the city—three buses if you’re lucky, and practically an all-day trip without a car.
Of the four census tracts surrounding the branch, three have carless rates much higher than the city average (which is of course higher than that of surrounding ‘burbs), nearly hitting 40 percent. The diverse population includes many poor and elderly, a sizeable new refugees segment, and quite a few visually impaired people.
Louise McNeilly, president of the “Delaware Area Neighborhood Association”:http://www.facebook.com/pages/Delaware-Area-Neighborhood-Association-Albany-NY/319027840408, says that in her decades of community activism, keeping the post office open has been the easiest thing to get people to support. She and other neighborhood activists hear fears about the closing of the station from all quarters: “I guess I’m going to have to take a three-hour bus ride to mail a package to my grandkids.” Or “How will I run my business without my PO box around the corner?” And “I went to the Hudson Avenue post office and the line took forever! I can’t do that all the time.”
Miriam Axel-Lute is editor of Shelterforce and associate director of the National Housing Institute. Her email is miriam at nhi dot org.