Duval restoration project takes another step

Members of the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative coalition and community leaders and residents take the Duval bus tour.

AIDA MALLARD/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 12:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 12:27 p.m.

By a show of hands, residents in the Duval neighborhood demonstrated their desire to move ahead with the Alachua Habitat for Humanity Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which has been billed as a vehicle to serve families through community development and housing solutions.

"This day launches the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative," said Dr. Kathryn Rice, a community redevelopment private consultant who served as the facilitator of the initiative's coalition community meeting, which was attended by more than 50 residents and held last Thursday at the King Center.

By the end of the nearly two-hour meeting, all but one resident voted to move ahead and 10 residents volunteered to serve on the steering committee to talk about concerns and to prioritize the needs of the community.

"What you bring to the table is what you know about your community," Rice said. "Who knows better than you what is needed in your community?"

Jill Cleveland, organizational development consultant of Habitat for Humanity International, told the residents that the initiative is like dreams realized in partnership with social service organizations that form the Duval project coalition under the leadership of Habitat. "It's like decorating your dream house and the NRI will be your decorator to make your dreams come true," Cleveland said.

Scott Winzeler, executive director of Alachua Habitat for Humanity, said local agencies that will form the coalition for the project include the Neighborhood Housing & Development Corp., Central Florida Community Action Agency, Rebuilding Together NCF, Gainesville Regional Utilities, city of Gainesville, Gainesville Housing Authority, Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency, Mount Carmel Baptist Church, Suskin Realty and others.

Last Wednesday before the meeting, members of the coalition, as well as other interested community leaders and residents, took a bus tour to familiarize themselves with the Duval neighborhood, which borders Waldo Road from the west, NE 12th Avenue from the north, NE 25th Street from the east and E. University Avenue from the south. During the bus tour, Fred Murry, assistant city manager, said the city owns many empty lots in the Duval project area and some of those parcels could be donated to get them back on the tax rolls.

During the meeting, predominant concerns voiced by residents included home repairs for seniors, programs to help seniors get access to services and resources, addressing the false stigma of east Gainesville as a community with criminal activity and neglected homes, and other concerns.

Winzeler said more than 150 residents responded to a survey mailed in September and October to 1,172 addresses in the Duval project area. He said 48 percent of those who responded were more concerned about repairs to windows and doors, followed by exterior paint, which was 47.8 percent, and weather stripping, which was 44.6 percent. Those who responded also said there is a need in the areas of affordable health care, programs for seniors, local employment opportunities, job placement resources and assistance with utility payments.

Jill Carter, a volunteer with Alachua Habitat, said 85 percent of residents who responded to the survey said they love their neighborhood and have lived there for a long timne. She said 60 percent of responders own their homes and 40 percent are renters. She said 64 percent of those who responded want affordable housing and are concerned about home repairs, crime and drugs and unemployment.

Winzeler said the next step is to formulate a plan of action.

"They will need to find their voice as to what kind of revitalization projects they want for their community," Winzeler said.

The meeting garnered praise.

Lynda B. Johnson found the meeting very helpful. "I plan to and will get involved," Johnson said. "I'd like to see more of this dialogue."

To find out how to get involved and for more information, call Casey Smith, director of development at Alachua Habitat for Humanity, at 352-378-4663.

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