As cash-strapped as most governments are these days, it’s refreshing to see there are still grants out there that if spent wisely, can make a big improvement in a community.
The City of Elizabeth is to be congratulated for going after a $1 million neighborhood revitalization grant from the U.S. Justice Department, which targets crime hot spots in cities and towns.
If approved, the city would receive $1 million over a 15-month period, during which time both strategies and renovations would be implemented to upgrade a neighborhood that traditionally has been the source of criminal activities. Two local partners — required as a pre-requisite for the grant — Elizabeth City State University and the River City Community Development Corp., also would be involved. The grant is especially attractive to local officials because it requires no match by the city.
Police Chief Eddie Buffaloe Jr. said the “hot spot” targeted would be the four-block area near Hollywood Cemetery, between Roanoke Avenue and Peartree Road that includes Tatem Lane, Davis Avenue and Perry Street.
While most of City Council supported the application, it was criticized by 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Brooks who wondered why the hottest of hot spots is the Roanoke-Peartree community in his ward. But as it turns out, the facts speak for themselves.
Buffaloe found the Roanoke-Peartree community has seen a significant spike in crime and disturbances over the last decade, and that its crime statistics stand above similar neighborhoods.
In the past five years, that area had 953 arrests, a 47 percent increase in arrests compared to 501 arrests in the preceding five years. From Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2012, there were 430 arrests in the neighborhood — 4 percent of the city’s total arrests of 10,401.
Granted, no resident or councilor wants his or her neighborhood labeled a hot spot crime area, but they should welcome the opportunity to improve public safety and security, which will improve the image and boost pride and property values in the neighborhood.
The Police Department and City Council realize there are other hot spots that could also use help, if it becomes available.
For example, there are three other neighborhoods similar in crime statistics to the Roanoke neighborhood that have seen lots of police activity. One is Southern Avenue/Parkview Drive, Price Street, Newport Avenue, Lincoln and Virginia streets.
The second includes Harney, Bank, West Cypress and Bell Streets. The third includes Harney, Glade, West Burgess and Grady streets.
If the project proceeds, city officials should need little reminding of the tough lessons learned from the last big grant it received — the $1.75 million five-year Hugh Cale Neighborhood Revitalization Strategies grant, which dates back to 2002.
“There were problems from the get-go,” said 1st Ward Councilwoman Jean Baker.
For instance, there were questions whether the full range of services was being provided by Hugh Cale Opportunities Industrialization Center and other concerns about the fiscal management related to OIC and Elizabeth City Neighborhood Corporation.
Throughout the grant period, there were delays and allegations of mismanagement.
“It was a long, complicated thing, and there was a lot of misunderstanding, and there was a lot of politics in the middle of it,” said 2nd Ward Councilwoman Anita Hummer.
However, through City Manager Rich Olson’s leadership, the city was able to complete the grant and build a community resource center, rehabilitate some houses and spend nearly all the grant money that was once in jeopardy of not being spent.
If the city becomes a recipient of the Justice Department grant, council and staff — heeding lessons from the Hugh Cale project — will want to play a stronger oversight role in its implementation.
Meanwhile, the Police Department expects it will be several months before it learns whether it receives the $1 million Justice Department grant.
Until then, officials would be well served by mapping out how such a project can be achieved with the goal that has been set out — to make a city neighborhood safer for current residents and more attractive to newcomers.