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Commission Votes “Yes” On South Elm Redevelopment

The Greensboro Redevelopment Commission voted unanimously to accept the South Elm Street Redevelopment Plan at a special called meeting tonight at Shiloh Baptist Church on Eugene Street. A crowd gathered for the public hearing and presentation of the plan. There were a few speakers in support of the plan and some questions from the audience before the vote was taken.

The plan calls for a mix of residential and retail on a 10-acre tract, including 63 affordable housing units. (The presentation also included discussion about a larger 75-acre “corridor” that extends southward from the tract to be developed.) Redevelopment of the 10-acre tract is expected to cost $11 million in public funds, much of that federal dollars, some of which has already been committed from sources such as HUD and the EPA. But there is a $4.6 million “funding gap” that will have to be made up with public funds. Responding to a question from the audience, a city staff member said that he did not expect a tax increase to pay for this project.

The city expects to use $300K from the HUD CDBG grant and $790K from the HUD Home Program, plus $3.5 million in certificates of participation to make up the gap in funding. (I asked if that was new HUD money or something we already get. It’s not new, but it wasn’t clear which programs would lose funding if this money is reallocated.)

Cleanup and site prep could start as soon as 2007, with the project to be completed in 2011. The redevelopment plan will generate $50 million in private investment. The current tax value is $1.9 million.

Because this is a brownfields redevelopment site, there was a question about the level of cleanup. The answer was that there would be some level of remediation, but probably not complete removal, and it would be based on the usage of the property and negotiations with the state. Follow-up question: Do you know how expensive it’s going to be? Answer: “We have a good idea of what we need to do,” but “no firm price.”

I told the commission that all of the streets in the redevelopment area are streets we visit each week on Night Watch, and we find homeless people hanging out and sleeping at locations all over that area. I then asked about the homeless folks who will be displaced by the redevelopment. There was an audible rumbling in the audience behind me, where some of the neighbors were sitting, but no one spoke up. A commission member acknowledged that the issue had been raised, but didn’t answer the question, either. She commented that the homeless people didn’t actually live there and that they stayed in the area because of the homeless services available nearby.** (I absolutely understand the residents’ concern and I’m not against the redevelopment plan. I just know that if you move the homeless people out of that area, they still have to go somewhere. So if you’re planning for everything else, why not plan for them, too?)

Prior to voting, one of the commission members indicated that the following concerns raised by speakers and audience members would be addressed by the commission as they continued with the plan: 1) using “green” building materials for the project, 2) incorporating bike pathways, 3) considering a market rather than a chain grocery, and 4) considering the needs of the homeless individuals who will be displaced by the redevelopment.

Update, 08/23/06:

News & Record coverage,“South Elm Plan Clears First Step.”

**N&R quotes Nettie Coad: “It’s not like they have a house there. They’re just congregating there. If you minister to them there, that’s where they’re going to stay.”

The article also states that I “work with” Night Watch. To clarify, I’m a member of the all-volunteer Night Watch street outreach team. :)

UW/HPCGC Press Conference: Homeless Task Force News

There was a full house this morning in a conference room at the Salvation Army Center of Hope in Greensboro, as the United Way of Greensboro and High Point and the Homeless Prevention Coalition of Guilford County held a press conference to 1.) (re)announce the formation of the Guilford County-Greensboro-High Point Task Force to End Homelessness, 2.) update the public on the Task Force’s purpose and progress; and 3.) announce the totals from HPCGC’s first-ever summer Point in Time Count of the homeless.

Task Force Chair Carole BruceThe Task Force is charged with developing a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. The plan will focus primarily on the chronically homeless, who make up 10-15% of the homeless population, but use 50% or more of the resources. Task Force Chair Carole Bruce described the Ten Year Plan as a “win-win situation” which will “reduce the economic burden in our community and do the right thing.”

Consultant Nancy Hunter (standing) and HPCGC Chair Karen Bridges (seated)Consultant Nancy Hunter gave an informative and detailed presentation entitled “Ending Homelessness in Guilford County.” Neil Belenky of United Way said that part of the job of the Task Force is to address the “myths” about homelessness and homeless people, such as: “The homeless don’t really want housing.”

The Task Force has scheduled two town Town Hall Meetings on Homelessness in Guilford County. The first is Sept. 12th at 6:00pm at Westover Church in Greensboro. The second is Sept. 19th at 6:00pm in High Point, location TBA.

More details will follow on this blog and at HPCGC’s web site.

>> Homeless count totals here.
>> News & Record coverage of the press conference here.

No Wind. Just Gone.

On Friday night, the Night Watch team visited the MLK/Lee property (more here, here.) We were early and no one had come back to sleep yet, but there were signs that someone was still staying there. This afternoon, less than 48 hours later, I drove back by to check on a friend and discovered that the camps had been cleared:

MLK & Lee St. in Greensboro.  Homeless Camps.  Before & After.  June & July 2006. MLK & Lee St. in Greensboro.  Homeless Camps.  Before & After.  June & July 2006.

I’ve known for a while that this was coming, but I still wasn’t prepared for what I saw. It was an eerie feeling to walk up to the place where a homeless friend was sleeping two nights ago on his bed in a shelter he’d built and now find only bare ground. My mind was racing and my heart was sinking, wondering what it must have felt like when he came back to sleep last night and found his bed and his belongings gone. I mean… I just cannot imagine.

I absolutely agree that land owners have a right to develop their own property. I recognize that this land did not belong to the homeless people who stayed there, and that they had no legal right to camp there. I acknowledge and am very thankful that City staff made repeated efforts to ensure that those staying on the property were informed that the land would be cleared, and that they were made aware of other possible options for the future. I am grateful for the concern and compassion showed by all the City folks I spoke to.

But I also know that the only reason that homeless people were camping on that property in the first place was because they had no place else to go. And my faith tradition tells me that I am my brother’s keeper. And if my brother (or sister) is homeless and lacks medical care, mental health treatment, substance abuse rehabilitation, affordable housing, or gainful employment, then as a member of this community, I share in the responsibility for making those things available. I still have a house and a bed, but I won’t rest easy until there’s a home for all of us.

And I can’t help wondering where our friends are sleeping tonight…

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More before and after pictures here.