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
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.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Alexandria, Central Louisiana, Leonard Ford Jr., Rapides Parish, Sandra Bright | 2 Comments »