Cenla Red Cross prepares for possible hurricane; trains volunteers

With a hurricane watch issued from La Cruz, Mexico to the south end of Baffin Bay, Texas, the Central Louisiana Red Cross employees and Disaster Service volunteers are preparing for a potential response.

According to the National Weather Center, Tropical Storm Alex is steadily strengthening and is expected to become a hurricane as early as Tuesday morning, making landfall by Thursday.  Although the storm is not expected to impact Louisiana, the Central Louisiana Red Cross is gearing up for the possibility of responding locally or deploying volunteers to the impacted area.

“We have a critical need for trained shelter volunteers and for volunteers to work in our office to provide staffing support, man the call center, and to work with Information Technology,” said Leann Murphy, CEO of the Central Louisiana Red Cross.  “Whatever your skills and expertise, there’s a place for you with the Red Cross and now is the time to get trained and identified.”

An Emergency Shelter Operations Class for registered volunteers, new teams or teams needing an update, and any individual interested in becoming a Red Cross shelter volunteer will be held at the Red Cross office at 425 Bolton Avenue on the following dates and times:

Wednesday, June 30 – 8am to 12pm

Wednesday, June 30 – 1pm to 5pm

Thursday, July 1 – 5pm to 9pm

Pre-registration is required; call the Red Cross at 318-442-6621 or email learn@cenlaredcross.org.  Hurricane preparedness information can be also be found on the Red Cross website at www.cenlaredcross.org or by calling the Red Cross office at 318-442-6621.

Von Jennings: Alexandria needs effective leadership to move forward

By Sherri L. Jackson
The Light/EverythingCenla

It’s no secret that Von Jennings is seeking to take Mayor Jacques Roy’s seat in October.

And she said she plans to do so by proving that she has the necessary leadership skills to get the job done.

“We need effective leadership that listens to the will of the people,” Jennings told The Light in a one-on-one interview. “The city needs leaders who will develop plans of action and follow through with input from residents. Many have the technical skills to do the job, but lacks leadership skills needed to move the city forward.”

“A good leader has goals to accomplish, and the behavior is based on those goals,” she said.

Though mulling over the decision whether or not to seek the city’s highest office since November 2009, after careful consideration and several conversations with community and business organizations, Jennings officially made her intentions known Tuesday, March 30, when she opened her campaign headquarters at 1012 Third St., across from Alexandria City Hall.

About 40 people attended the event to hear Jennings’ announcement. She is the first to officially announce candidacy.

Jennings said she hopes to bring to her native city the type of leadership she believes is lacking in Alexandria City Hall.

“We need leadership that is open to collaboration with others. I’m positive we can do a better job,” she said. “I have the ability to partner, to collaborate and the willingness to listen the move on and to develop plans of action that can be implemented.”

Jennings worked as an assistant to Mayor Jacques Roy in charge of the city’s AFEAT, which stands for Alexandria Fairness, Equality, Accessibility and Teamwork, a business program which was designed to bring in help minority and emerging business do business with the city. She was terminated in January 2009.

Jennings is a 1991 graduate of Peabody Magnet High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and public administration from Grambling State University and a master’s degree in public administration from Southern University. Currently, she is pursuing a doctorate in public policy.

“I want everyone to appreciate that I am a candidate who will represent all of the citizens of Alexandria. I am willing to work with everyone. We have to understand that there are more issues that we have in common than those that are different,” she said.”

Jennings said she sees the city’s priorities as conservative financial planning, aggressive

economic development, work force development, youth development, drainage and flooding,

affordable utilities and infrastructure projects that will promote economic viability.

“The immediate needs are to have definite financial plans. The city is looking at a deficit. We need more revenue streams,” she said.

Meanwhile, Jennings said the city in its current state needs her leadership skills, which along with experience, make her the “excellent choice” to be the city’s leader.

“Much of my experience and skills are directly tied to those serving as mayor of any leader in a corporation,” she said.

Jennings said as she operates a grassroots campaign she looks forward to meeting all citizens “at their door.”

March 15: The Light honors 2010 Women of Distinction

March 1: Two nationally known personalities visit Alexandria in one week

To see this issue, click on the cover.

The Light celebrates three years of publishing

Feb, 15 online version

Everyone deserves decent, safe and sanitary homes

Read Sandra Bright’s response to Leonard Ford’s column.

By Leonard Ford
Alexandria

Some 10 years ago, Cecil Myers, then executive director of Innercity Revitalization Corporation, told the Public Works Committee of the Alexandria City Council that too many of Alexandria residents were living in houses that weren’t fit to call home. That sentiment remains true as many of Alexandria’s citizens, especially those living in the city’s black communities, are still living in houses that are so dilapidated and beyond repair that many of them look like they could topple over at any time. If you doubt me, ride through the Sonia Quarters, Samtown-Woodside, Lower Third, and Oil-Mill neighborhoods.

Ten years after Myers made that statement, several new housing developments (Oak Mount Village, Silverleaf, Pine Oak, Enterpirse Place, Riverbend Subdivision, Lawson Heights) have been built in Alexandria. These developments offer housing to those people who might not have otherwise been able to afford purchasing, leasing, or renting a home to better their living condition. Without these housing developments, many of those may be living in substandard housing.

I believe such housing developments are good for the residents of the city and the city itself. Living in a nice home with nice amenities improves a person’s self-esteem, improves their quality of life, and gives them the opportunity to take care of something for which they can be proud. When people vacate dilapidated and substandard houses, the city can come in, condemn them and tear them down. By doing so, the city can build better housing on the property.

With even more developers wanting to come to Alexandria to build these lease/purchase   developments or add to existing ones, such as the planned expansion of  Riverbend Subdivision that will include 10 duplexes, one would think that people in the communities where the housing developments will be built would be happy to have new housing locate there. That’s not the case. Opposition to that project has come from several residents and others, most notably from former police juror Joe Fuller, Sandra Bright, spokesman  for Lower Third Neighborhood Watch/Concerned Citizens, and District 3 Councilman Jonathan Goins. All are concerned about flooding in the area. Fuller and Goins both stated that the duplex project, Riverbend 4, does not need to be built. Bright did not voice whether or not the expansion should be built, but she did express that she is worried about the new subdivision causing additional flooding problems on Seventh Street, which is already prone to flooding.

Is their concern about flooding their real reason for their opposition to the proposed new expansion, or could they have more underlying reasons for it? You may recall that Goins and Bright both opposed the city’s plan to build a gated rental apartment complex on the site of the former Dominique Miller Livestock Market, as both felt that more rental property wasn’t needed in the Lower Third community since the area already was inundated with an over abundance of rental property. Could this be why they and Fuller are against the Riverbend expansion?  No one will know for sure, but it sure makes you wonder.

My view on the expansion of Riverbend and any other new housing developments that may be built in Alexandria is this: This city needs new affordable housing for which it citizens can choose to live. Just as we want to live in a nice home that we can afford to either purchase or rent, those citizens who are now living in some old dilapidated house want that same opportunity, and building new affordable housing is the best way to give them that opportunity. We must also remember that everyone does not have the finances to build or purchase a home. That is good for those who can afford it, but for others, their only option of living in a nice home is by renting. We all should be thrilled that new housing is coming to our communities.

And yes, most of the new housing developments are predominately being built in Alexandria’s black communities. What’s the problem with that since that is where the largest concentration of people living in substandard housing live.

With any new development and construction, there is bound to be some opposing points and views. Sometimes we have to overlook the bad to see and realize the good. We should think about that before we go about opposing something.

Mixed use development best suits Alexandria’s Lower Third community

Editor’s Note: This column responds to Leonard Ford’s column that was published in the Feb. 1 issue of The Light. Read Ford’s column.

By Sandra Bright
Alexandria

Leonard Ford’s recent commentary titled, “All People Deserve Safe, Sanitary and Decent Housing,” published in the Feb. 1 issue of The Light newspaper expressed his views and observations on the housing needs and initiatives taking place in our local community. In his commentary, he implied that comments I made to the media and at Alexandria City Council Meetings as a spokesman for the Lower 3rd Neighborhood Watch/Concerned Citizens Organization belied a hidden motive to undermined new housing initiatives being built or planned for the city-specifically District 3 that includes the Lower 3rd community.

This is a completely false assumption. Our organization wholeheartedly agrees with Mr. Ford and endorses the concept that every human being should have a decent, safe place in which to live. Our organization also endorses the belief that along with housing, there should be an environment conducive to promoting a safe and secure community in which to live out that life. Things like adequate drainage systems to prevent flood loss of hard earned personal goods, adequate and sufficient street lighting, sidewalks, green space, public parks and adequate police and fire protection are just a few things that should be the norm rather than the exception to compliment decent and affordable housing. To this end, I have dedicated my time and energy to facilitate activities toward improving the living environment of my community.  I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. That is why I joined and became an active participant in an organization that promotes a mission statement of undertaking and promoting awareness of problems that impact the wellbeing of residents of our neighborhood and community; joining together and working with other entities to reverse the blight and deterioration in our community.

I attend public meetings as the spokesman for my organization to bring awareness of community problems and lobby for interventions for these residents, many who are elderly and incapacitated or are afraid to go out of their homes after dark because of the fear of becoming a crime victim.  A simple paragraph to rebut Mr. Ford’s comments and others who have similar thoughts about our organization’s motives would be insufficient to describe other factors that form the stance that our organization has taken relative to drainage/flood issues and infrastructure in our community.

I have observed that over time, many residents of the community had become “blind” to the deterioration of the community around them. Longtime community residents bemoaned the sad state of affairs in which the community had befallen. They remembered what the neighborhood was like before urban decay eroded the fabric of family and community life. Agencies like Habitat for Humanity and Inner City Revitalization under the leadership of Executive Director Barbara Dashiell and President Randalle Hunt Moore, were making small, steady “dents”  in inner city neighborhoods to build new housing or restore existing structures for reuse.

An example of one of the reuse initiatives in our community is the Olive House, a 20-unit single residency apartment complex that houses previously homeless persons, those with substance abuse and mental health issues. When a new administration was elected in 2006, our group felt it was time to tackle issues within our community on a much larger scale. In February 2007, the Lower 3rd group organized a public meeting inviting all citizens and elected officials to participate in a discussion to address “adequate housing”  among other  issues that had lain dormant for too long in our community. Out of that meeting,  one of the issues the city’s administration  committed to was to tackle inadequate housing, the many vacant residential lots, and the need for consumer commercial ventures in the most blighted and neglected areas of the city. J-QUAD consulting firm from Dallas met with city administrators and our organization on several occasions seeking input for both short and long range strategy planning to address housing needs. The neighborhood organization’s vision was of a mixed use community with small consumer-oriented businesses (beauty shops, barber shops, day care center, washateria, book store, etc) interspersed with single family homes-new along with restoration of older homes, new rental units and special needs housing.

Along with the housing component, larger consumer service commercial entities such as a grocery store, pharmacy, etc. would be recruited to meet the demands of the neighborhood population since access to large scale business within walking distance did not exist in the neighborhood.  Later, health surveys taken by the Rapides Foundation described the need for grocery stores in poor neighborhoods to provide and serve fresh fruits and vegetables in order to promote healthy life choices. Recently, first Lady Michelle Obama has launched a nationwide initiative to combat childhood obesity. One of the components of this initiative is to give incentives to grocery stores to locate in poor areas of cities to provide fresh fruits and vegetables in order to decrease a family dependence on fast, high fat foods.

After the initial meeting with elected officials in 2007, Rep. Herbert Dixon proposed a TIF for the Lower 3rd district to entice commercial enterprises into the community. This initiative was cancelled in favor of the proposed SPARC initiative sponsored by the city’s administration. The SPARC proposal was supposed to bring in commercial enterprises and economic development by providing the infrastructure to attract and support these commercial enterprises.

Clifford Moeller, executive director of the Greater Alexandria Economic District Association, was selected by the administration to manage the SPARC project. Mr. Moeller met with our group in March 2009. He discussed with the Lower 3rd group what SPARC was intended to do provide. Lower 3d members were under the misconception that the SPARC plan would be responsible for building new housing units, new commercial development and provide jobs for local residents. Mr. Moeller stressed that SPARC was a mechanism in which infrastructure projects would be built to attract commercial development. Examples of infrastructure projects were listed as installation of drainage and electrical systems, sewer systems, sidewalks, etc that would make it easy to leverage and facilitate commercial endeavors for the community.

Our organization eagerly awaited infrastructure projects to begin to address the long-standing drainage and flooding problems, attract commercial enterprises, and the 3rd Street Streetscape project that was first proposed in 2004 with an allotted $2.8 million in federal money and is still waiting to be actualized.

As stated previously, our organization is not against proposed housing initiatives. We addressed the housing issue with the administration in 2007 as a critical need. What we are opposed to is building these new projects upon an antiquated drainage system that has proven to be inadequate to handle present day needs-let alone future large scale projects. It would seem that drainage system problems would be addressed first before building any new structures. As the saying goes, in order for a house to stand, you must have a solid foundation. A house built on sand won’t last.

Secondly, though rental housing is needed, there should be a balance between rental and single family homeownership. To have an excess of rental or rent-to-own housing units in one section of town defeats the purpose of achieving community stability. Homeowners tend to invest in their property and community because of the long term commitment that a mortgage entails. Rental units should be prioritized and made available to those with special needs, young adults just entering the work force and those senior citizens that can no longer maintain the upkeep of their own residences. African-Americans families with children tend to live in rental housing for longer periods than their white counterparts before seeking home ownership, if ever. A concerted effort in our community should focus on assisting this segment with investing early in homeownership thru various incentives such as homeowner education, budget management, credit counseling and down payment assistance.

Also, established homeowners wanting to stay in their residences, but lacking the funds for energy efficient rehabilitation and restoration should be given resource assistance. Older residents are resistant to leaving their homes that hold special memories of family life, even though the houses may be less energy efficient and need more rehabilitation than the $5,000 weatherization allotment that is administered through HUD. Low-income homeowners living in flood designated areas of the city don’t quality for larger amounts of federal low interest loans/grants to make the necessary repairs to improve their properties.

Each neighborhood has its own character and flavor. Neighborhoods are the heart and soul of our city. Residents and city officials must work together to maintain that character and soul while rebuilding that which is no longer viable or productive. What infrastructures we invest in now should incorporate plans for future growth. Prioritizing and tackling outdated drainage/flooding systems to meet the needs of new/future building initiatives must be in the forefront when officials and community stakeholders discuss the city’s Master Plan for construction growth.

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