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.

Blame game full of players at Alexandria City Hall

By Leonard Ford Jr.

Though I have been quiet on the current problems happening over at Alexandria City Hall between Mayor Roy’s administration and some members of the Alexandria City Council, don’t think that I haven’t been keeping up with their shenanigans.

Too much doesn’t get by me. Sometimes I feel that it’s not my place to comment. However, with what has been transpiring at our “hall of bickering” as of late, my self-imposed silence has come to its end.

And that end leads me right into commenting about the deep political divide between our mayor, Jacques, and the city council, especially three of our outspoken councilmen, Myron, Jonathon, and Ed. This political divide both cripples the effectiveness of the council and administration and makes observers throughout Alexandria and surrounding cities wonder what has and is happening in Alexandria City Hall.

Some division between the mayor’s administration and the council is healthy, and disagreement on hot issues is expected. However, after the last several council meetings, there can be little doubt in anyone’s mind that Roy has utter contempt for Myron, Jonathon, and Ed. Likewise, it appears Myron, Jonathon, and Ed have utter contempt for Roy. Simply put, they don’t like each other.

This contempt among the “players” has now reached a new level. Both sides are ready to do battle in their “tit for tat” tug of war, which all boils down to finger pointing about who is making the other look bad in the public eye.

About two weeks ago, it came to light that the City Council, specifically Council President Myron Lawson had spent approximately $71,000 for food and beverages for council meetings. It wasn’t really stated who first brought this spending up. Nevertheless, the excessive spending was discussed in a council meeting. Both the administration and Lawson offered reasons behind the amount of money spent. Each one had their say, which wasn’t good enough for the other. Thus, it was the beginning of another way of “taking the blame off of me and putting it on you.” Discrediting one another can be a bitch.

Now it appears that this “taking the blame off of me and putting it on you” has taken own a life of its own. The Council’s Legal Committee is now pressing for the council’s to discuss a “potential conflict” of interest that involves Mayor Roy and whether or not he was double dipping in the Cleco case as mayor and attorney.

Here’s the thing. Something (the large amount of money spent on food) came out that could possibly make Lawson seem that he did something underhanded. He has not been accused of doing anything, and I want to make that perfectly clear. However, with the maneuvering to bring up the “potential conflict” for Roy, it makes it seem that some people, and I’m not saying who, is trying to take the wolves off Lawson’s tail and put them on Roy’s tail. I’m not saying that this is the case . We are smarter than that.

Then there’s Roy, who has stated that this thing with his “potential conflict” is the council’s (I’m sure that he is not referring to all council members) way for Lawson to “deflect attention” away from him because of the large amount of money spent on food.

This entire mess basically pits two men, who I think a lot of us consider honorable. However, with the way they have been playing the “blame game,” it is getting difficult to say who’s being straightforward, and who’s talking with a “forked tongue.” Roy will have his believers, especially those in his administration who has every confidence in him that he is doing what is right. He will also have those who think he is not right for the office and should go. Lawson will also have his believers, especially his allies on the council, who also have every confidence in him that he is doing a fine job. He also will have those who think that he is wrong for the council and should go.

Let’s see who is still standing come election time.