Everyone deserves decent, safe and sanitary homes

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

By Leonard Ford

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

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.

Lower Third community needs its residents

By Sandra Williams Bright
Lower Third Neighborhood Watch/Concerned Citizens Organization

Do you want to be informed about the plans for your community proposed by the City of Alexandria? Do you want to make your community a better place by reporting crime and illegal drug distribution? Do you want to make a difference in your community by participating in projects that enhance the living conditions for its citizens with emphasis on youth and senior citizens projects?  If so, you need to be a part of the Lower Third Neighborhood Watch/Concerned Citizens Organization.

I am amazed by the number of Lower Third community residents, who are not aware of this organization, which has been around a long time.
Many of the founders are elderly or  in ill health or have died. That’s why we need committed and dedicated members to join, work and make a difference in this community.

We now have a generation growing who has not been taught core values of respect for self and others, honesty, hard work and accountability. We have to “take back” our neighborhoods one neighborhood at a time. We have to “draw a line in the sand and take a stand.”

When people work together they CAN make a difference. Sociologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has.”

Several proposed projects are in the making for the Lower 3rd community-S.P.A.R.C. initiatives, Third Street Streetscape project and Ruston Foundry reuse. Many other issues need to be addressed such as drainage  problems,  street repair, illegal drugs distribution, loud music, school dropouts-especially among male high school students and “slum lords/tenant” problems  to name a few.

The community needs its citizens to become active and participate in these issues. Whether offering a solution, to some of these problems to reporting street problems, drainage issues and illegal drug activities to the appropriate authorities-each citizen can do his or her part to make the community a better and safer place to live. Police can’t be everywhere. The citizens are the eyes and ears of the community and must work with the police if “we” want to see a change. We need to be the “neighborhood watch” for each other’s property.  Activities like illegal drug sales flourish because we look the other way and allow it to happen.

When a community takes a stand and works toward eliminating the drug problem, the violators move to other areas. Just because one area of town is having a problem with illegal drug activity, does not mean that your neighborhood won’t be affected.

Illegal drug “stores” and distribution houses are rampant throughout the parish. Drug dealers are like roaches-when you put the poison to them, you may “knock off a few, but the rest just move to another area that has not been treated with the roach poison and set up shop. Roaches multiply faster than rabbits. When you see one, others will soon be showing up. Getting rid of roaches takes a concerted approach by all communities-half treating the problem causes the roaches to become immune and multiply faster.

People, we have a lot of work to do in our community. It starts with one project at a time and one person at a time. We tend to sit back and let other people do “our” work and say, “I’m glad that you are doing this or that. Keep it up.”  Why can’t you be the one participating in this “work?”

One person can’t do everything.  We profess to be a Christian nation and community. What will you tell St. Peter when you make it to the “Pearly Gates?”  I hope it is not, “I was too busy taking care of the missions overseas to do any missionary work in my community.” Charity begins at home.
Everyone has a talent or skill. Our organization needs your talent or skill in order to form committees, become incorporated as a non-profit in order to garner grants and resources to make a difference in the neighborhood and overall community.

The next meeting of the Lower Third Neighborhood Watch/Concerned Citizens Organization is at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14, Wilborn-Dempsey Multipurpose Resource Center.  Guest presenters will be Meyer, Meyer, LaCroix & Hixson, Inc., professional engineers, along with Jeffrey Carbo, professional landscape architect.

Discussion will be centered on the proposed Third Street Streetscape project. All community residents, landowners and businesses located along the Main Street and Third Street corridors from Casson to Broadway Streets are urged to attend this important presentation and participate by asking questions and offering solutions as to “WHAT THE COMMUNITY WOULD LIKE TO SEE ACTUALIZED ALONG THIS CORRIDOR.”

Lend a hand to this organization to make our neighborhood and community a better place to live. Let’s reverse the downward spiral of urban blight. I’m greatly sadden to see how the neighborhood in which I was born and raised in has become so “trashy with an aura of decay about it.”

It dismays me to see the disrespect shown for senior citizens in their “golden years” who have given their lives in service and hardship during the civil rights movement to ensure we have the rights that were given to us as citizens of America under the Constitution.

Let’s join forces to bring back the neighbor in neighborhood, especially in the Lower Third community.

See you on at the meeting.

Zion Hill Church ready to open $6 million Family Life Center

The Light's Nov. 15 cover

Zion Hill Baptist Church in Pineville will open its Family Life Center with four days of celebration events starting Dec. 4. Read all about the $6 million center. Click here: Pages 1-8 Pages 9-16

Ruston Foundry site cleaned, celebration held

Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality joined public officials and members of the Alexandria community on July 15 to celebrate the completion of the cleanup at the Ruston Superfund site.

“Getting the property back into productive use is one of our highest priorities,” said Richard E. Greene, EPA regional administrator. “Encouraging redevelopment, strengthening communities and energizing growth creates a proud legacy for everyone.”

The Ruston Foundry site was an abandoned metal foundry that operated from 1908 until 1985 and is located in an urban area with mixed development within the city limits of Alexandria. Initial site operations began with clearing activities to open up the area for cleanup. Cleanup consisted of the demolition of old site buildings, foundations, as well as the removal of an underground storage tank and closure of onsite wells. Additional cleanup included the removal of asbestos-containing material and contaminated soil.

“This is a monumental occasion” said DEQ Secretary Harold Leggett. “A one-time Superfund site that is now available to be put back into commerce. This is a great day for the state’s environment and for the business community of Alexandria. The completion of such a large project is an example of local, state and federal agencies teaming up to work for the betterment of the state.”